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Ambrosia Chocolate once gave downtown Milwaukee a sweet smell and has long been a nationally-known brand.

With a looming factory on North Fifth Street, just to the northwest of the Bradley Center, the sweet smell of the Ambrosia Chocolate works was a staple of downtown Milwaukee for decades. The company was founded in 1894 by Otto J. Schoenleber and named for chocolate’s reputation as “the food of the Gods.” Schoenleber ran the company for over 30 years, establishing it as a leader in retail penny sweets and candies. By mid-century, the company shifted its focus towards larger-volume products, such as powdered cocoa and bulk chocolate.

Ambrosia’s shift away from retail products kept the company from becoming the same kind of household name as Hersey’s, although the company did produce a single brand of candy bar, the “Trixie,” a mix of milk and bittersweet chocolate with cashews, almonds and pecans, that was sold exclusively at Ambrosia’s downtown retail shop and at a factory outlet Kenosha. Still, Ambrosia’s chocolate was for decades a staple in both Chips Ahoy! and Keebler brand cookies.

These industrial molds were used to impress the Ambrosia name into their bulk chocolate products. (Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear)

photo by Tyler Yomantas

In 1992, Ambrosia closed their downtown plant (which has since been razed) for a new state-of-the-art facility on Carmen Avenue on the city’s northwest side. The move came just a year after the arrest of serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, who had worked at the plant between 1985 and 1989, which drew a degree of national attention to the factory.

This mold dates to around 1940 and was used to “brand” bulk milk chocolate with the Ambrosia name. The Ambrosia label still exists today, although the Milwaukee factory is now operated by Minneapolis-based Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, who acquired the plant and Ambrosia name in 2015.

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Antique Milwaukee is a new web Milwaukee Magazine web series that takes a closer look at objects and curiosities from around town that have a story to tell. We’ll reveal a piece of Milwaukee’s history through a new artifact in each installment.

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