Husking Cacao Pods, West Indies, 1914

Historical Context
Cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate, comes from the fruit of the cacao tree, which grows in hot, tropical climates. The cacao tree is a delicate tree. It must live under the shade of another tree for the first two to four years of its life before being able to thrive in the direct sunlight. It takes about five years before the tree can produce fruit. In the wild, cacao trees have been known to live over two hundred years, but on farms they are usually replaced after only twenty-five years.
Essential Question
How does geography affect the economy of a region?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain how geography impacts the economy of a region.
[click to enlarge]
West Indies - Negroes Husking Cacao Pods, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_A6117
Document Description
Workers husking cacao pods in the West Indies, 1914
  1. If cacao pods have to be husked, what is their shell like?
  2. Why would these workers have long knives?
  3. Why are most workers wearing hats?
  4. What products are made from cacao?
  5. What would it be like to be a laborer in a cacao field?
  6. In what climates do cacao plants flourish?
  7. The English established a college to study tropical agriculture. Why would they be interested in what grew in the West Indies? Could they grow the same crops in England?
Historical Challenge
How is chocolate made? Who is known as the “Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers”? Where are cacao beans harvested today?
Compare the life of the West Indian cacao worker with that of a southern slave in United States history or that of a migrant farm worker today.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: What pests and diseases attack the cacao plant? What can you do to stop them?
English Language Arts: Write a fictional biography of a cacao worker from the West Indies who decides to come to the United States and settle in New York.
  1. Applebaum, Diana. 1997. Cocoa and Ice. New York: Orchard Books, 1997.
  2. Morganelli, Adrianna, 2005. The Biography of Chocolate. St. Catharines, Ont.: Crabtree Children’s Books, 2005.
  3. History of Chocolate
  4. Field Museum Chocolate Exhibition

    City of Birmingham, Trade Connections between Birmingham and the West Indies
  6. History of Chocolate
  7. New York State Library. "Selected Hispanic and Latino Websites."