Milton S. Hershey
The Man Behind the Chocolate Bar
The memories of what it was like to have been a poor boy stayed with Milton Hershey throughout his life. They influenced him strongly when he later founded a school for needy children.
Milton S. Hershey was born Sept. 13, 1857, shortly before the American Civil War on a farm in Central Pennsylvania. Like most of the people whom he knew, he was the descendant of people who had come to Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Germany in the 1700s. He grew up speaking the “Pennsylvania Dutch” dialect and inherited from these people characteristics such as a zest for hard work, diligence, and thriftiness.
Both sides of his family were originally Mennonite. Though Milton’s mother was a staunch member of the Reformed Mennonite Church and wore plain clothes and a bonnet throughout her life, formal religion was never a part of Milton Hershey’s life. When he was asked once what his religion was, he is said to have replied, “The Golden Rule.”
As to schooling, Mr. Hershey had very little. He attended several schools as his family moved from their original home in Derry Township to Lancaster County, but his mother did not seem to emphasize learning. In fact, she felt that books would ruin her son. Although Hershey became successful without the benefit of a good education, the fact that, later on, he insisted the boys in his school have a “sound education” gives the impression that he felt the lack of it in himself.
The First Million Is the Hardest
At first it seemed that Milton Hershey had no talents for business. He failed at numerous ventures before he finally succeeded at making caramel candy. By then he was almost forty years old.
Milton first went to work as an apprentice to the editor of a small, German newspaper in Lancaster. He was clumsy, though, and hated the work. Soon he got himself fired by dropping his straw hat into the printing press.
Next, his mother found him an apprenticeship with Joe Royer, a candy and ice cream maker in Lancaster. It was here that he learned the basics of candymaking.
But Milton was ambitious, and in 1876, decided to move to Philadelphia where celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence were taking place. Hoping to cash in on the money that people would bring to the Centennial, he set himself up in the candy and confectioner’s business. Hershey borrowed considerable sums of money from his Uncle Abraham Snavely and printed elaborate business cards and stationery to advertise himself. He brought his mother and his Aunt Mattie to Philadelphia to help him. But though they all worked terribly hard, Milton was never able to make enough money to pay either his suppliers or his debts.
Hershey was persistent, however, and having failed in Philadelphia, went off to seek his fortune in Denver, New York, Chicago, and even New Orleans. He had no more success in any of these places but he did come back with one important thing: the knowledge, learned from a candymaker in Denver, that fresh milk makes good candy.
This was the secret that would make his fortune but for the moment, in 1886, he was penniless. He went back to Lancaster but did not even have the money to have his possessions shipped after him. When he walked out to his uncle’s farm, he found himself shunned as an irresponsible drifter by most of his relatives.
This time, though, fortune finally smiled on Mr. Hershey. William Henry Lebkicher, who had worked for Hershey in Philadelphia, stored his things and helped him pay the shipping charges. Aunt Mattie and his mother began once again to help him and Milton started experiments which led to the recipe for “Hershey’s Crystal A” a “melt in your mouth” caramel candy made with milk.
In the early 1900s, Milton Hershey made one of the great American fortunes through dogged persistence and the courage to pursue a dream. Though he was modest and unassuming in appearance, it was said Mr. Hershey was a shrewd and determined businessman. A great entrepreneur and philanthropist, he measured success, not in dollars, but in terms of a good product to pass on to the public, and still more in the usefulness of those dollars for the benefit of his fellow men.
The Lancaster Caramel Company
A large order from an English candy importer led Hershey to ask the Lancaster National Bank for a loan. The bank’s cashier was so impressed by Hershey that he lent him the money, backing the loan with his own signature. When the Englishman actually paid for the goods with a check for 500 English pounds, Hershey was so excited that he ran down the street to the bank with his apron still on.
From that time on, Hershey was extremely successful, and by 1894 he was considered one of Lancaster’s most substantial citizens.
The success of his caramel business enabled Mr. Hershey, for the first time in his life, to spend money for his own pleasure. While he was never ostentatious, he clearly had a longing and a taste for beauty and elegance. He always enjoyed being able to spend money when and how he pleased. “It’s my money,” he would say in later years if anyone raised a question.
As was fashionable among other well-to-do Americans of the time, Mr. Hershey began to travel to Mexico, Europe, England, the Continent, and Egypt. Always curious and always picking up ideas from what he saw, he visited museums, shops, and tourist attractions, walked the streets, watched the people, and is said to have kissed the Blarney Stone and gambled in Monte Carlo.
I’m Going to Make Chocolate
Caramels gave Mr. Hershey his first million, but chocolate gave him his real fortune. His first taste of it came on a visit to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he became fascinated by a set of German chocolate-making machinery. Hershey bought the equipment and had it installed in Lancaster where he began producing his own chocolate, 114 varieties in all.
By the late 1800’s, Hershey, who was now aware of the growing market for chocolate, was convinced that his future lay in producing it rather than caramels. In 1900, he sold his Lancaster Caramel Company to competitors for $1 million (a sum which was then worth considerably more than now) and began to devote all his energies to making chocolate.
His search for the perfect site to build a complete chocolate factory led Hershey back to Derry Township. He had already repurchased the house where he had been born for his father. Now he was convinced that the Central Pennsylvania countryside would provide everything he needed for a factory: a plentiful water supply, fresh milk, and industrious workers. Ground was broken in 1903 and by 1905 the new factory was completed.
His Legacy Continues
Business is a Matter of Human Service
Hershey and a few chosen employees worked side by side and into the night, until just the right blend of ingredients was found for milk chocolate. As one of these men recalled later, “Nobody told Mr. Hershey how to make milk chocolate. He just found out the hard way.” Personal involvement in the work at hand was typical of Mr. Hershey and was certainly one factor which earned him the devotion and admiration of many employees.
Milton Hershey’s great contribution to the American food industry was the organization of the mass production of milk chocolate. Much of the machinery necessary for mass production was either developed or adapted in Hershey’s factory. He did not begin with the clear intention of making chocolate bars and for several years produced many varieties of fancy candies. When he did make the brilliant business decision to concentrate on the Hershey bar, though, and on one or two other basic chocolate products such as cocoa and chocolate coatings, his name became the nationwide symbol for quality chocolate in a phenomenally short time.
Hershey had other qualities as well, which made him a good businessman. He was imaginative: the Hershey Kiss, for example, appears to have been his own idea. He had the skill of choosing able assistants and of keeping their devotion. He had a broad grasp of markets and of their possibilities and, furthermore, he was daring. Once he had made a decision, he put his entire force behind it, whether it was making chocolate or producing his own sugar in Cuba. On the whole, he was respected for honesty, for driving hard bargains, and for having a first-class product to sell.
Mr. Hershey was a doer, not a philosopher. He never wrote and seldom talked about his beliefs. Nevertheless, he obviously thought a lot about such matters as success and the value and purposes of money. He seems gradually to have developed, from his experience, a set of principles which he followed consistently.
Milton Hershey believed wealth should be used for the benefit of others and practiced what he preached. He also understood (along with many other great businessmen) that good works are also good business and therefore did not lessen the depth or scope of his interest in other people’s welfare.
Mr. Hershey used his chocolate fortune primarily for two projects: the town of Hershey and his Industrial School. Although the question was raised of whether he was well-advised to tie up his fortune in the manner he chose, no one ever questioned his sincerity.
His Deeds are His Monument
Plans for building the town went hand in hand with building the factory. Since Hershey started his company in the middle of farmland, not in a town, it was clear from the start that he would have to provide a place for at least some of his workers, as well as his managerial staff, to live.
Plans were drawn for a pleasant tree-lined community which provided for all the needs of its inhabitants. A bank, hotel, school, churches, parks, golf courses, and a zoo followed each other in rapid succession. With characteristic forethought, Mr. Hershey developed a trolley system so that people did not feel compelled to live in Hershey and had a way to get to work from nearby towns.
Although the town was well established by its 10th anniversary in 1913, Hershey had a second building boom in the 1930s. During the Depression, Mr. Hershey kept men at work building the Hotel, the community building with two elegant theatres, Senior Hall for the boys’ school, a windowless, air-conditioned office building for the factory, and the Arena. The last two were excellent examples of Mr. Hershey’s innovative approach. The controlled environment of the office building was way ahead of its time and the arena was, at that time, the largest such structure made of poured concrete and unsupported by columns. It was Mr. Hershey’s boast that no one was laid off in Hershey during the Depression years.
A Man of Principle
Mr. Hershey’s belief that an individual is morally obligated to share the fruits of success with others resulted in significant contributions to society. Together with his wife Catherine, he established the most prominent of his philanthropic endeavors, the Hershey Industrial School. Saddened because they had no children of their own, and anxious to put their growing fortune to good use, Milton and Catherine Hershey founded this school for orphaned boys in 1909.
The School’s Deed of Trust stipulated that: “All orphans admitted to the School shall be fed with plain, wholesome food; plainly, neatly, and comfortably clothed, without distinctive dress; and fitly lodged. Due regard shall be paid to their health; their physical training shall be attended to, and they shall have suitable and proper exercise and recreation. They shall be instructed in the several branches of a sound education . . . . . The main object in view is to train young men to useful trades and occupations, so that they can earn their own livelihood.”
Behind the founding of the school were Mr. Hershey’s own childhood memories of hard times and his hope that he could spare some children the pains he had experienced. Here again, though some criticized, the school became the principal recipient of Hershey’s fortune and continues to be so today.
When Milton Hershey died in 1945 at the age of 88, a chocolate bar had carried his name around the world and made him a legend. Poor boy turned millionaire, he was loved and admired as well as envied and sometimes misunderstood.
Hershey had the genius to develop the chocolate industry in the right place at the right time. His personal convictions about the obligations of wealth and the quality of life in the town he founded have made the company, community, and school a living legacy.
Info: “The Man Behind the Chocolate Bar,” Hershey Museum, exhibit catalog, 1988.