On this day in history : 24th May 1836 – The birth of Quaker, philanthropist, social reformer, businessman and chocolatier Joseph Rowntree….

Joseph Rowntree – Public domain

Joseph was born in York and was the son of Sarah and Joseph Rowntree, who opened a grocery shop in York in 1822…. He attended Bootham School, an independent Quaker school and upon his leaving started an apprenticeship in the family shop….

At the age of 14 Joseph accompanied his father to Ireland and here he saw first hand the effects of the Potato Famine…. The experience shaped his political views and planted the seeds for the business ideas that would come to him in later life….

After the death of their father in 1859 Joseph and his brother, John Stephenson Rowntree, took over the running of the family business…. He was to marry Julia Eliza Seebohm in 1862 but sadly she died the following year…. He was to marry again in 1867, to her cousin Emma Antoinette Seebohm and they were to have six children….

It was in 1869 that he joined his other brother, Henry Isaac, who owned a chocolate factory in York – but was experiencing financial difficulties at the time…. H.I.Rowntree & Co was formed and in 1881 the company introduced their famous Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, to compete against imported French sweets…. The pastilles were a huge success, producing 25% of the company’s annual turnover by 1887…. It was also in 1881 that a purposely designed new factory was opened….

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Henry Isaac died in 1883 and Joseph was to become sole owner of the company…. He was in a position to be able to buy machinery to produce chocolate on a large scale and compete with rival Cadbury…. Then in 1893 Rowntree’s added Fruit Gums to their range….

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By the end of the 19th century the company had grown from 30 employees to more than 4,000 and was Britain’s 18th largest manufacturing employer of the time…. It also provided one of the first occupational pension schemes…. In 1904 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation was established to understand the root causes of social problems and at the same time The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust was founded…. New Earswick, a garden village, was built in York providing decent homes at an affordable rent for low income families….

Joseph Rowntree died on the 24th of February 1925…. Rowntree’s merged with Mackintosh & Co in 1969 and in 1988 were taken over by Nestle….

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