Maillard, Henri (1816–1900), was America’s preeminent nineteenth-century confectioner. Celebrated in his adopted country for his Frenchness, he was sometimes considered too American in his native land. “Only a Yankee could have conceived the idea of creating an edible Venus de Milo,” sniffed the French critic Eric Monod, echoing the sentiments of others in response to the 400-pound chocolate sculpture Maillard showed at the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition.
This split identity characterized the career of Maillard, who immigrated to New York in 1848. At the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, he included sugar models of such uniquely American figures as the Pilgrims and founding fathers, General Custer and Sitting Bull in one enormous exhibit, while flying the flags of both the United States and France above another. This latter exhibit demonstrated how cacao beans were turned into chocolate using French machinery available in the Machinery Hall’s France section. Yet Maillard used “Henry,” not “Henri,” on the exhibit’s signage and achieved great American success with the grand presidential party he catered at the White House on 5 February 1862. Hosted by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln to unveil her renovation of the presidential mansion, the gala boasted as its centerpiece a Maillard-made confectionery steamship flying the Stars and Stripes, along with sugar models of Fort Sumter and the Goddess of Liberty.