Henri Nestlé Biography – From Pharmacist’s Assistant to the World’s Largest Food Conglomerate

Nestle is a world-famous conglomerate. We have all heard about it and used its products. Nestle products include baby food, ice cream, frozen food, medical food, and most importantly, confectionery and snacks. However, it is interesting to see who stands behind this successful, multinational company and who is responsible for creating the products people around the world love and use. 

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Nestle was founded in 1866 by (Heinrich) Henri Nestle. 200 years have passed and his inventions and products are still very useful and loved by all. However, Henri Nestle’s path to success was not easy and was full of difficulties. Once a pharmacist’s assistant, he manages to become the founder of a world-famous company.

Henri Nestlé Biography

Henri Nestlé – Early Childhood & Family

Henri Nestle was born on August 10th, 1814. The place of birth was Frankfurt, Germany. His parents were Anna Maria Catharina Ehemann and Johann Ulrich Mathias Nestle. There were fourteen children in total in Nestle’s household, and Henri was the eleventh child. 

Nestle’s father, Johan, was in charge of the family business that he inherited from his father. He was a glazier, responsible for removing, installing, and cutting the glass, and it turned out that the business provided a good source of income for the family. As a matter of fact, the Nestle family has a big family tree and the profession of glazier has been passed from father to son for generations. 

The Nestle family has its roots in western Swabia, Germany. In the dialect of Swabia, “nestle” means a small bird’s nest. And to be honest, the last name just fits the family. They respected their origins and ancestors and have been active members of the community.

New Life In Switzerland

At the beginning of the 19th century, chemistry was not considered a science. So, you could not just learn it at a university. Pharmacists got their education mostly from academic courses or training, and all that actually started around the 1850s. Normally, after the training was done, the next step for pharmacists was to practice, either at home or abroad, to finalize the knowledge. That’s what Henri did. He moved to Switzerland for his practice. 

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Henri finished his pharmacist’s apprenticeship in 1833. In 1839, he became a pharmacist’s assistant. It is unclear why Henri chose to go to the specifically French-speaking area of Switzerland, but without doubt, it changed his life. 

Heinrich Nestle’s mother passed away in 1939, and her father died a year before that. At that time, Henri was 25 years old. He decided to stay in Switzerland and managed to get a residence there. The significant event in his life was that he got official authorization to do chemical experiments and sell medicines. After that, he changed his birth name and called himself “Henri Nestle” instead of “Heinrich“. One more reason for this change would probably also be the willingness to get acceptance from the local community. 

First Steps in the Business Industry

In 1843, Henri bought the “En Rouvenaz” property, with the residential building attached to an oil mill, press, sawmill, distillery, sheds, garden, meadows, and much more. However, he was not rich, and the property needed financing. Henri managed to acquire the property with the help of Anna Dorothea, his aunt, who helped him financially in that case. Here comes his first step and his adventure as an entrepreneur. 

He started the manufacturing process of some products, such as vinegar and fruit brandies. He even bought the vineyards to produce grapes and use them in the process of vinegar making. 

Soon, the mineral water and carbonated lemonade manufacturing processes started. His lemonade was good and had a soft fruity flavor. However, at the end of the 1840s, the production ended because of some problems Nestle was facing.

Marriage 

Nestle took orphan Emma Seiler into their care. She had a very special place in his heart. Her parents died soon after her birth, and Nestle took the matter of raising her into their own hands. 

Henri Nestle got married at the age of forty-six in 1860. By that time, his economic situation was good. His wife was Anna Clementine Therese Ehemant, born in 1833. This marriage gave him an opportunity to get the status of “Burgher” class. Also, at this time, he was already well known as a chemist.

Clementine had many health issues. However, the worst thing was that she was childless. That is probably why she was always concerned about her friends’ or coworkers’ babies. The cereals that Nestle created back then were her way of sublimating her maternal instincts. She was very dedicated to the infant cereal project and was doing much more than just helping her husband.

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Need of Substitute Infant Food

Back in those days, infant nutrition was really a problem, and substitute food for infants was hard to find. For example, mothers fed their babies the milk of various animals, but it was actually hard to digest. There were poor hygienic conditions that made everything much worse. 

Henri Nestle wanted to solve those problems and saw the urgent need for processed food. One child in three died because of the lack of infant food substitutes and their quality. Even though he had never had anything to do with that subject before, he was very determined. He thought that the cow’s milk would work as a substitute for the mother’s milk.

How Infant Cereals was Invented?

Eventually, in 1835, the first baby food product was developed by Nestle. It was made by the method that was patented by Newton. The product was a combination of milk paste (thickened milk) and sugar. However, soon after this, he admitted that it was not suitable for everyday use and rejected the milk paste.

It is not known when he actually started working on the infant formula project. By 1867, he had already invented and produced some powdered milk products, “Infant Cereal.” He started to combine the cow’s milk with the sugar and grain. In this way, he created a product that became a substitute for breast milk.

New Product

Substitutes produced by Nestle quickly became famous and popular not only in Switzerland, but the demand was from all over Europe. Finally, he had mastered the new product. He removed the acid and starch that the wheat flour contained. Because it was difficult to digest and called “Children’s flour”, it just needed to be boiled prior to the feeding and was very easy to use. 

Soon, “Henri Nestle’s Milk Flour” became famous and started to be sold in much of Europe. Until June 1868, he used old equipment to manufacture infant cereal. After he ordered the new machines, he was able to sell the product to a bigger market.

Origins of Milk Chocolate

Nestle used milk condensation for its products. This practice enabled Daniel Peter, who was a chocolatier, to make the perfect milk chocolate formula. After the partnership and years of effort, the milk chocolate formula was finalized in 1875. 

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Daniel Peters had a problem removing the water from the milk. The regular milk caused his chocolates to develop mildew. Therefore, he was looking for a way out of this situation. When Nestle developed milk-based foods and started marketing, Daniel knew that something good had just happened. 

Nestle’s solution to Daniel Peter’s problem became the basis of everybody’s favorite milk chocolate. Little did they know that the Nestle company would become one of the most famous and largest confectionery brands in the world.

Everything Comes To An End

In 1875, circumstances forced Henri to borrow large amounts of money. So, he decided to form a company limited by shares. In 1875, Henri Nestle sold his company to his partners and continued living with his family. The company’s name, under the new ownership, was “Societe Farine Lactee Henri Nestle”. So, it turns out, it maintained Nestle’s brand name. 

Soon after, in 1877, the Nestle company added condensed milk to its products and became the direct rival of Anglo-Swiss, which was also a manufacturer of milk-based baby food. 

After his retirement, Henri helped people with small loans and contributed to the improvement of local infrastructure. Hendri Nestle died in July 1890, after a short illness, at the age of seventy-six. On the same day of his funeral, the house was sealed, and Clementine claimed her personal property and possessions. She passed away ten years after her husband’s death, in 1900, at the age of sixty-seven.

Interesting Facts about Henri Nestle

  • In the dialect of Swabia, Germany, “nestle” means a small bird’s nest.
  • Nestle’s logo was created in 1868. The logo features a small bird that is being fed in the nest. It is based on the family crest. 
  • Henri Nestle started his business in the small Swiss town of Vevey. It is where the global headquarters of the Nestle brand is located today.

Bottom Line

Finally, Henri Nestle found its way, and in 1979, it was merged with the milk-chocolate inventor, Daniel Peter. 

Today, Nestle Brand is the owner of over 2000 brands in 186 countries. Currently, Nestle’s top brands include Milo, Maggi, Nespresso, Nescafe, and many others. And that’s not everything. So many of our very favorite candies are produced by them, such as Kit Kat, Smarties, Baby Ruth, and Fun Dip. Who would have thought that after 156 years, Nestle would be the world’s biggest conglomerate and largest food manufacturer company?

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