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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study, Lunch Hour NYC Exhibition: From Hardtack to Sugar Wafers: How the Civil War Created the Industry for Dainty Biscuits


January 24, 2013

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Cracker bakeries, sugar refineries, candy makers – New York had them all in 1861 when the Civil War began.  Once the huge build up of troops began, it meant that many more supplies would be needed to feed them.  New York’s robust cracker industry was already making thousands of pounds of hardbreads (the actual name of hardtack) for the city’s shipping industry, but with the start of the war, it meant they would have to ramp up production.  With the U. S. government buying up every piece of hardbread that could be baked, it made sense to expand, which most cracker factories did.  Many bakers also used the money streaming in from government contracts to buy the latest equipment, which encouraged inventors to create even more new machinery.  When the war ended, the cracker makers had to keep their expensive new machines running.  A cultural shift in eating patterns, plus some innovative bakers, created an entirely new industry that offered all manner of sweet biscuits and dainty treats.

A writer in residence in the Library's Frederick Lewis Allen Room Joy Santlofer is an independent scholar studying the history of food production in New York City.  Her published work includes articles in Food, Culture and Society, Vintage Magazine and her essay Asphalt Jungle appears in Gastropolis: Food and New York City.  Her book, Food City: 400 Years of Food Making in New York City, will be published in 2013 by W. W. Norton.

For more lectures from the Allen Room, click here.