The News of Milton Hershey’s Gift
Milton Hershey was a man of few words and swift decisions. After World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and sugar prices rose, Milton Hershey wanted to expand his operations of sugar refineries in Cuba. A special meeting of the Chocolate Company shareholders, held on November 12, 1918, increased the capital stock to fund the Cuban expansion. The day after the meeting, on November 13, 1918, Milton Hershey donated 5,000 shares of common stock, the bulk of his fortune, to the Hershey Trust for the well-being and stability of the Hershey Industrial School – now Milton Hershey School.
This remarkable action may seem unbelievable to many, but to Milton Hershey it was just another business decision.
“Mr. Hershey explained how it was that the trust fund for his school, which is his pet hobby, was formed in 1918. He has never made the matter public. His explanation is in keeping with the modesty of the man who in the past has dodged newspaper men and referred all inquirers at his home to his friend and chief counsel, John E. Snyder.
‘The reason that I provided for the school trust was that I might get the foundation laid while I am still alive. If I pass away tomorrow it would be worth the knowledge that the plant would go right ahead and there would be no one to step in and upset things. The whole arrangement would continue just as if I were here.'” —Los Angeles Sunday Times, November 11, 1923
News of that great gift of philanthropy didn’t become public until five years after the action. Many newspapers across the country published articles about the great philanthropist and it was one of these reporters who converted the 5,000 shares into the dollar figure that certainly caught people’s attention. The article that garnered the most attention was the article in the November 9, 1923, issue of the New York Times, “M.S. Hershey Gives $60,000,000 Trust for an Orphanage.”
In his usual manner, Milton Hershey authorized his attorney, John Snyder, to give the details to the press. The article described the town of Hershey and the school, including the goal to, “make the life of children as homelike as possible.”
As a follow-up on this amazing news, the New York Times published a full-page article on November 18, 1923, “Hershey, Unique Philanthropist.” In it, Milton Hershey talked about his childhood, the town, the school, and explained his decision for the trust.
“My business has been far more successful than I ever expected it to be. If I should drop out, what would become of the business, the capital and the earnings? As matters have been arranged, the business will go right on, a considerable part of the profit to be used for the Hershey Industrial School. The capital, of course, remains intact. Well, I have no heirs–that is, no children. So I decided to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs.”
In addition to newspapers, the news attracted the attention of magazines. A Liberty Magazine article featured one of the few photographs of Milton Hershey with students. He was photographed holding four-year-old Robert Sheaffer ‘36. In the magazine, they are shown looking at the camera, but another image shows Milton Hershey looking at young Robert fondly and with a smile.
Even though the New York Times and other publications considered Milton Hershey’s great gift big news, he was true to form with going on with business as usual. Today, we are grateful for the press attention since the most meaningful quotes come from the articles published in November 1923.
In the November 18th New York Times article, Milton Hershey was asked if he would have made the same decision if he had sons of his own. He replied, “Well, my wife and I decided that we ought to do this. She has gone on; did not live to see the plan completed. It was hers and mine…Yes, I think if I had had those sons you mention I still would have wanted the poor boys to get the business, or most of it. Because they are our boys, you know, after all, whether we happen to be their dads or not.”