The confectionary market boomed following World War I, leading to the making of the iconic Freddo Frog.
World War I stopped the importation and trade of metal moulds for chocolate in Australia, as well as ingredients for confectionery. Meanwhile, an incentive had begun in 1915 from the Australian War Contingent Association (AWCA) in London to distribute gifts to Australian soldiers during the war. Among these gifts were tins containing six sticks of chocolate. The lids exhibited a coat of arms and a message: ‘To the Australian Expeditionary Force from the Australian War Contingent Association, London. “A happy new year to one and all.”’ The aim of the tins of chocolate was to provide soldiers with energy and to boost morale. The AWCA found its services to be in high demand and, as such, supplementary organisations were established to raise funds for sending gifts overseas between 1914 and 1918, including newspapers, cigarettes, writing paper and chocolate. These comforts were often sent as messages of hope and courage.
The temporary stop of the confectionery trade saw demand skyrocket for chocolate and sweets after the war. The gap in the market was recognised by entrepreneurs, including MacPherson ‘Mac’ Robertson. Robertson was an industrialist and philanthropist, who founded MacRobertson’s Steam Confectionary in the late 1880s.
Born on 6 September 1859 in Ballarat, Robertson moved to Melbourne in 1874, where he completed an apprenticeship at the Victoria Confectionery Company, and gained experience with other confectionery firms. He began boiling lollies in the bathroom of his Fitzroy home and would hawk them to nearby shopkeepers.
By the late 1880s, Robertson had opened MacRobertson’s Steam Confectionery Works in Fitzroy, which had more than 30 employees. The war provided MacRobertson’s with a timely advancement to the company, and by 1922, the business was booming. At the time, MacRobertson’s was successfully producing a variety of confectionery, including the well-known and popular Old Gold chocolates and Cherry Ripe chocolate bar.
Fast forward to 1930, and the Freddo Frog was born. Fun fact: this iconic sweet treat was originally going to be a mouse, and the moulds for a chocolate-shaped mouse had already been created. Many historians have noted the coincidental timing, considering the debut of Disney’s Mickey Mouse in 1927. Was MacRobertson’s planning to use the popularity of the animated character? Even so, Harry Melbourne, an 18-year-old apprentice at the time, suggested that a chocolate-shaped mouse might not sell as well to women and children, as many were afraid of mice. And so, the chocolate was remoulded into the shape of a frog, with Robertson’s signature engraved on the bottom of each chocolate. By 1947, Freddo Chocolate Frogs (as they were known at the time) came in a variety of flavours, including milk chocolate, white chocolate, and peanut. The foil-wrapped chocolate was sold for a penny a piece.
Since the original creation of the Freddo Frog, the well-known Australian character has assumed several redesigns. While Cadbury bought MacRoberton’s in 1967, MacRobertson’s will always be remembered as an Australian confectionery empire that launched many of our nation’s beloved chocolate treats.
Pictured: Workers packing confectionery at the MacRobertson’s factory in Fitzroy, Victoria – circa 1930s–1940s. Image courtesy of State Library Victoria.