Milton S. Hershey History
Milton S. Hershey: The Man Behind the Chocolate
To understand Milton Hershey School is to understand Milton Hershey himself. Just as he created the school, the school made him the man we know and admire. Learn more about Milton Hershey through the years and how his experiences impacted the school as we know it today.
The Early Years
Milton S. Hershey was born Sept. 13, 1857, on a farm in Central Pennsylvania. He was the descendant of people from Switzerland and Germany in the 1700s. He grew up speaking the “Pennsylvania Dutch” dialect. His family instilled many traits in him: a zest for hard work, diligence, and thriftiness.
Learning the Trade
Mr. Hershey’s family moved from their original home in Derry Township to Lancaster County. His mother did not emphasize learning. So, despite attending several schools as a child, he had little schooling. After a failed apprenticeship with a newspaper shop, Mr. Hershey learned the basics of making candy under the guidance of a candy and ice cream maker.
Milton Hershey borrowed a large sum of money from family to start his own candy business in 1876. He believed many people would visit Philadelphia during the anniversary of the American Revolution, so he based his company there. This new company, as well as a subsequent company he owned in New York City, failed.
Finally in Business
Mr. Hershey returned to Central Pennsylvania as a failure, but he had learned an important lesson: fresh milk makes good candy. This lesson helped Mr. Hershey finally become a profitable candy maker at nearly 40 years old. Using milk, his new Lancaster Caramel Company made “melt-in-your-mouth” caramels. Mr. Hershey’s positive mindset led to innovation.
The Resilient Businessman
Milton Hershey failed time and again but never gave up. Through challenging times, he kept an innovative spirit and a positive mindset. His resilience led to success through chocolate.
Mr. Hershey and his assistants worked until they discovered just the right blend of ingredients for milk chocolate. However, that was not Mr. Hershey’s biggest contribution to the American food industry. What was? Mass producing food! Much of the machinery needed for this large task was either developed in or adapted by his factory.
The Hershey name quickly became the national symbol for quality chocolate.
Beginnings of an Empire
Caramels gave Milton Hershey his first million, but chocolate gave him his real fortune. By the late 1800s, Mr. Hershey saw the growing market for chocolate. He sold the caramel company for $1 million to focus on making chocolate. Mr. Hershey knew the Pennsylvania countryside would provide everything he needed for this new venture. It had plenty of water, fresh milk, and industrious workers. Mr. Hershey came home to Derry Township and completed factory construction in 1905.
Building a Legend
Plans for building the town of Hershey went hand in hand with building the factory. The factory was in the middle of farmland, so Mr. Hershey knew he needed to build homes for his employees. He guided plans for a tree-lined community that would meet all resident needs. Some employees chose to live outside of town. Mr. Hershey developed a trolley system to provide them with easy access to work. This silent film footage showcases Hershey, Pennsylvania as it was in 1915.
Stability During Unstable Times
The town of Hershey experienced a second building boom in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, Milton Hershey kept his men at work. They built what are now the most historic, innovative, and recognizable buildings in town:
- The Hotel Hershey
- The Community Building with two elegant theaters
- Catherine Hall (original Junior-Senior High School)
- The Windowless Office Building, the chocolate factory’s office
- The Hersheypark Arena
Mr. Hershey boasted that no one was laid off in Hershey during the Depression years.
Sharing His Success
Milton Hershey believed that every person is “morally obligated to share the fruits of success with others.” This belief resulted in great contributions to his community and the world. He and his wife, Catherine, wanted to put their growing fortune to good use. Because they loved children and were unable to have their own, they decided to start a school in 1909: The Hershey Industrial School. Their goal was to create a school for low-income, orphaned boys to help them lead successful and happy lives. The school was the primary recipient of Mr. Hershey’s fortune when he died in 1945 at age 88.
A Living Legacy
Mr. Hershey’s personal beliefs about the obligations of wealth and the quality of life in his town have made the company, community, and school a living legacy.
Now known as Milton Hershey School, we continue to advance the Hersheys’ vision and help students break the cycle of poverty. MHS provides an excellent education and a stable home life for more than 2,000 children each year.
In 2020, we expanded our impact when we announced the creation of Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning, a subsidiary of MHS. CHS provides a cost-free educational, social, and cognitive day program to children of low income from birth to age 5. Its Early Childhood Resource Centers are located in Pennsylvania.
Our whole-child approach meets all educational, physical, social, and emotional needs of our students. In fact, we nurture the same qualities in our students that made Mr. Hershey a good businessman and generous philanthropist:
Many of the chocolate products, including HERSHEY’S KISSES Milk Chocolates, are thought to have been Milton Hershey’s own idea.
Mr. Hershey had the skill of choosing able assistants and keeping their devotion. Many of his core employees spent their whole careers working for him in a variety of roles.
Milton Hershey had a broad grasp of markets and their possibilities and was not afraid to be bold and take risks.
Mr. Hershey was respected for his decisiveness, honesty, and ability to drive hard bargains. At the same time, he was known for selling a quality product.