Teaching our kids how to respond positively to mistakes and failures is an important life skill for teens. Everyone fails, but successful people see the benefits of making mistakes and use them to their advantage.
This sums up the spirit of Ruth Graves Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie.
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Recently I purchased Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh. We often study stories about famous women during our science and history studies, so I knew this would be a great resource for us.
It was in here that we learned about Ruth Graves Wakefield, the creator of the chocolate chip cookie.
In addition to this book, we used the biography report and our own experiments to study her delicious “mistake.”
The Accidental Inventor
In 1930, Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield purchased a tourist lodge in Whitman, Massachusetts and opened the Toll House Inn.
Ruth was the cook for their new restaurant and at some point in the 1930s, she was trying to make chocolate drop cookies, but ran out of baker’s chocolate (or was in a hurry – the accounts vary).
She improvised by breaking apart a Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar and tossed it in. She didn’t melt the pieces like she normally did with baker’s chocolate. She thought the bits would melt, but they didn’t. They held their shape.
Ruth Wakefield had created the Toll House Cookie!
Customers loved the new cookies. She continued making them and freely shared her recipe.
Eventually she struck a deal with Nestle for a lifetime supply of chocolate (and most likely some unknown monetary amount) and the recipe was printed on the wrappers of all Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bars (now seen on the chocolate morsels bags).
Unlike many scientific inventors you read about, Mrs. Wakefield did not cycle through the invention process multiple times, trying to make her invention work. She is one of the inventors who accidentally create new things.
I’m guessing she was disappointed that the cookies didn’t turn out how she had planned. She could have easily thrown out that batch of cookies. But instead she decided to try them. She didn’t focus on what didn’t work, didn’t immediately declare them a failure.
She created something brand new, that the public wanted, just like all successful inventors.
Try it for yourself
It was time for a delicious experiment! We made three different batches, to compare the types of cookies we had studied.
- Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies, America’s favorite cookie.
- Cookies with broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, like Ruth Wakefield created in the 1930s.
- Chocolate cookies, made by melting the chocolate before adding it to the dough, which is what Mrs. Wakefield was originally trying to make.
My oldest really liked cookie #2. She noticed that the chocolate pieces melted and spread more than chocolate chips do, but saw how they didn’t permeate the dough like Ruth Wakefield originally thought they would.
The cookie that Ruth Wakefield was originally planning on making was my youngest’s favorite. She liked the full chocolate taste, instead of relying on chocolate pieces for the flavor.
Questions to Ponder
Our experiments led to a number of questions, which we researched and discussed, such as:
- Why don’t chocolate chips melt completely when you bake them in a cookie, but do when you melt them in a bowl?
- Why are most of us so afraid of making mistakes, yet inventors look at mistakes as getting one step closer to success? What is it about them that makes them keep trying while many of us just give up after one failure?
- What would have happened if Ruth Wakefield threw out her mistake instead of trying them first? Do you think someone else would have invented the chocolate chip cookie or would it never be invented? How would that have affected Nestle?
Mrs. Wakefield was a published cookbook author and skilled home economist. Some believe that her “failure” was not really a mistake, but that she knew exactly what she was doing when she added the bits of Nestle chocolate.
Either way, it was a delicious invention!
Add Ruth Wakefield and other inventors to your lesson plans when you’re teaching middle school science.
Who are some of your favorite inventors? Have you been following along as we’ve shared what we have learned from some of our favorite inventors and their inventions this week?