At a young age of 21 when he was handed over the responsibility of looking after his father’s failing business, along with his elder brother Richard, little did George Cadbury know that the company would prosper into a worldwide renowned chocolate major. Although he performed his job of taking care of the business, but his heart was still beating for the ordinary working man. This English magnate was also a great philanthropist and social reformer. He was greatly interested in improving the living and working conditions of the ordinary workers and did not leave any stone unturned in creating a happier and healthier livelihood for his workers. He was ambitious and serious about his company and hence, his hard work started generating revenue after five years of initial struggle and frugal lifestyle. The Cadbury Brothers cocoa and chocolate manufacturing firm was, then, transformed into the world’s leading chocolate brand. His inclination towards societal development not only benefitted his company and employees, but also Birmingham, which grew as an industrial city under the hands of George, thereby becoming the second largest city in the United Kingdom in terms of economy.
Childhood & Early Life
George Cadbury was born on September 19, 1839, as the third son of John and Candia Cadbury, in Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, into a family of dedicated devotees of the Society of Friends and followed Quaker beliefs.
His father John, a Quaker, was into tea and coffee business at Bull Street, although he also made and traded cocoa and drinking chocolate. His mother, Candia was an active supporter of the Temperance Society.
He attended a local Quakers school for his formal schooling but had to quit midway when his mother died unexpectedly in 1855.
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In April 1861, young George, along with Richard, took complete control over his father’s declining business due to his poor health, only to expand it into a worldwide flourishing chocolate enterprise.
Though the two brothers had been working with their father for a long time, they had to face difficulties in the initial years. They worked hard and spent cautiously.
George took charge of production and buying, while Richard took care of sales and marketing, which was in a bad shape and demanded immediate action.
The two brothers struggled and after five years of sheer hard work, they introduced ‘Cadbury Cocoa Essence’ – cocoa free from adulteration with starchy substances in 1861, which was marketed as ‘Absolutely Pure - Therefore Best’.
The momentous step of launching powdered cocoa changed the face of Cadbury’s small business and increased sales dramatically, thus transforming it into the renowned brand.
When the business started generating profits, the two brothers decided to expand and bought 14 acres of land - Bournbrooke Estate, in the countryside, about four miles south of Birmingham, in 1878, to open a new factory.
The new factory later came to be known as Bournville, named after the nearby flowing river as well as the French word ‘town’.
To give their employees a quality lifestyle, the two constructed a model village with good housing and improved living and working conditions and all necessary recreational facilities at affordable rates.
In 1895, George began his experiment of fulfilling his dream – the Bournville Building Estate, which was built on 120 acres of land bought close to the factory. Emphasis was laid upon open spaces and a separate garden with each house.
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In 1900, the Bournville Village Trust was established to maintain the 313 houses on the estate and their surroundings. Also, sick pay and pensions were introduced for the employees.
The untimely death of his brother, Richard, due to diphtheria in March 1899, left the Cadbury Empire in the individual hands of George, who became the chairman of the New Board, with Richard’s and his sons as his fellow directors.
Being a peace lover and non-violence supporter, George purchased Daily News in 1901 and used it as a mode of campaigning for old age pensions and against Anglo-Boer War and sweatshop labor.
In 1890, George, along with other Quakers, played a major role in restoring the Grove House School, in Reading, into Leighton Park School – a foremost Quaker school in Britain.
In 1897, the Cadbury brothers launched their first milk chocolate, though it was similar to a Swiss brand initially, but was later improved to produce a lighter colored chocolate called Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in 1905.
In 1903, he donated one of his former residences, the Georgian style mansion Woodbrooke, to The Religious Society of Friends in 1903. Today, it is known as Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and is Europe’s sole Quaker study centre.
In 1906, he got a 700-seat theatre constructed on the grounds of his home, Northfield Manor, where he organized food and entertainment for more than 25,000 underprivileged children of Birmingham, every summer.
He is known to have donated a large home in Northfield to Birmingham Cripples Union which was converted into a hospital in 1909, which is today called the Royal Orthopedic Hospital.
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To mark his silver wedding anniversary, George got the Rest House built on Bournville Village Green in 1914, dedicated completely for the local people.
He co-founded The Birmingham Civic Society in 1918 and donated the Lickey Hills Country Park to the locals of Birmingham city.
Both George and his second wife, Elizabeth, were die-hard philanthropists and social reformers. As a result, they established the Woodlands Hospital and opened The Beeches, a holiday spot for children belonging to slums.
Personal Life & Legacy
George Cadbury got married to Mary Tyler, daughter of Quaker author Charles Tyler, in 1872. The couple had three kids - George Junior, Mary Isabel and Edward.
Mary died in 1887 during childbirth, leaving George alone with his young kids. His niece Jesse, Richard’s daughter, moved in to take care of the children.
While on his trip to London, he met Elizabeth Mary Taylor (Elsie) and married her in 1888. They both became parents of six children - Laurence John, George Norman, Elsie Dorothea, Egbert, Marion Janet and Ursula.
He passed away on October 24, 1922, at his home Manor House, Northfield, aged 83. His last rites were performed at Perry Barr crematorium, while his ashes were buried at the Friend’s Meeting House, Bournville.
Various charitable institutions have been established by the successors of Cadbury brothers, some being the George Cadbury Hall at the University of Birmingham which conducts George Cadbury lectures and Selly Oak Colleges.
The houses, till date, in the factory village of Bournville are priced low and affordable as they were when built by George and his brother, Richard.
As a young man, George used to teach children on every Sunday morning at the Birmingham Adult School, which he continued to do so till the age of 72, and organized annual reunions at his home that were attended by over 1000 people.
He supported politics strongly and represented the Liberal Party from Birmingham Town Council as well as Worcestershire County Council.