Tag Archives: inventor of instant cocoa

Dunn & Hewett, inventor of instant cocoa

Daniel Dunn invented instant cocoa powder, and his products were widely imitated.

Daniel Dunn (1773 – 1862) was born in modest circumstances at Netherton, Dudley in Worcestershire, the son of a blacksmith. His father taught him honesty, and his mother instilled in him a keen work ethic.

Dunn had to earn a living from the age of ten. He joined the Swedenborgian Church in 1796, and remained a keen member throughout his life.

From early in life Dunn demonstrated a propensity for invention. He would eventually be granted eleven patents. One of his early discoveries was a method to improve the manufacture of horse nails. He established a horse nail factory in London, however the business failed following a recession in America.

Among Dunn’s London associates was John Isaac Hawkins (1772 – 1855), the inventor of the upright piano.

From around 1800, Dunn was to find success manufacturing instant coffee and instant tea from a factory at Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn. Expanding trade saw him relocate to a larger factory at Pentonville from around 1810.

Dunn invented instant cocoa powder in 1820. His method was to add sugar and arrowroot to cocoa to create a soluble powder. Hot cocoa could be made in one minute by adding boiling water, whereas previously chocolate had needed boiling for an hour or more.

Charles Hewett (1819 – 1869), also from Dudley, was apprenticed to Dunn by 1841. He had joined Dunn in partnership by 1857, and the firm henceforth traded as Dunn & Hewett.

Iceland Moss Cocoa had been introduced by 1859. It was made from cocoa, moss, farina and sugar. The moss was held to have highly nutritious qualities. Competitors such as Rowntree and Fry would later introduce their own competing Iceland Moss Cocoa products.

Dunn employed 47 people in 1861, including 23 men, 14 girls and ten boys.

Dunn was a generous philanthropist throughout his life. He died in 1862, and his estate was valued at under £3,000 (equivalent to at least £260,000 today). His entire estate was inherited by his third wife, Mary Dunn (1810 – 1885).

Charles Hewett took over as senior partner of Dunn & Hewett, and continued the tradition of respect and equality with his workforce that Daniel Dunn had initiated.

60 to 70 workers were employed by 1864. The firm was considered a good employer. A workman would be presented with a sovereign coin upon the birth of a child. The firm organised an annual excursion or dinner for their workers. A company funded brass band was established in 1864.

Charles Hewett died in 1869, and management of the firm was taken over by Mary Dunn and two of Daniel’s adopted sons, Arthur Day (1843 – 1918) and John Holm (1840 – 1897), the latter a trained chemist.

Dunn & Hewett employed 65 people in 1871, including 36 men, four boys, 22 women and three girls.

Dunn & Hewett ranked among the largest cocoa manufacturers in Britain in 1876. The firm employed 70 workers in 1881.

Mary Dunn died in 1885.

Arthur Day and John Holm appear to have sold Dunn & Hewett to Henry Saunders Nunn (1848 – 1925), a manager at a rubber manufacturer, following the death of Mary Dunn.

Arthur Day continued to work in a marketing role for Dunn & Hewett, appearing as a representative for Dunn & Hewett at International Exhibitions.

Dunn & Hewett was one of the leading cocoa manufacturers in Britain as late as 1911.

A fire at the factory in 1916 caused an estimated £14,000 worth of damage, equivalent to at least £800,000 in 2016.

Henry Saunders Nunn died in 1925 and left an estate valued at £125,000. The firm was inherited by his son, Henry Thomas Nunn (1878 – 1927), but he died just two years later with a gross estate of £23,102.

Control of Dunn & Hewett passed to Oliver Cromwell Nunn (1879 – 1971), who retired around 1930, upon which the Pentonville factory was closed down.