Milton Hershey (1857 – 1945)

Chocolate With A Little Less Guilt…

Milton Hershey was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1857.  Although he’d travel the country and the world, Pennsylvania would always be home. 

Dropping out of school after the 4th grade to help his family financially, the 10 year old Hershey became an apprentice at a newspaper.  The young boy was bored and hated the work.  After getting fired his mother and aunt sent him to apprentice at a confectionary maker.  There the boy thrived and became an expert in chocolate and confections. 

At 21 he moved to Philadelphia to open his own confectionary business, which eventually failed.  Soon thereafter he moved to Denver, working for another sweets company where he learned how to make caramel using fresh milk.  Upon leaving Denver he made his way to New Orleans then Chicago before landing in New York City, where he started another company that failed after three years. 

With grit and determination, Hershey moved back home where people knew him and where he could get a bank loan to start his third company, the Lancaster Caramel Company.  Understanding that caramel sold better in bulk allowed him to focus his sales pitch and the company became a spectacular success, employing over 1,200 workers.  He sold the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1900 for the then extraordinary sum of $1 million and used the money to launch an empire.

He bought land north of the Lancaster amidst dairy farms to ensure himself a consistent source of fresh milk and launched the Hershey Chocolate company, releasing the original bar that very year.  He then introduced Hershey Kisses in 1907 and the Hershey’s Bar with Almonds a year later. 

Like his caramel company, Hershey’s chocolate company was an extraordinary success, but this time he wasn’t selling.  Hershey wanted to build more than just a chocolate company, he wanted to build a community, which he did, the city we know of today as Hershey, Pennsylvania.  He built the largest chocolate factory in the world and seeded around it everything from churches to libraries to housing.  The charity that was closest to his heart, because he and his wife were unable to have children, was the private boarding school he built in 1909 that is known as the Milton Hershey School. He would eventually give his entire fortune to the trust that operates the school and to this day controls the Hershey Chocolate Company.

He would go on to do other things as well, not the least of which was developing a chocolate bar for the US Army during WW II that resisted melting in hot weather.  In 1935 he established the Milton Hershey Foundation which would fund a variety of civic activities including a museum, theater and gardens. 

Milton Hershey died in 1945 having lived a long life that combined entrepreneurial determination and charitable zeal.  From a young man who was forced to leave school after the 4th grade and had a ticket for the Titanic’s maiden voyage – which he and his wife chose not to use – he would spend most of his adult life profiting from taking chocolate from a luxury affordable only to the rich to a treat that almost any parent could afford for their children.  He in turn used that substantial profit to improve the lives of others.  The next time you eat a Hershey Bar or nibble on some Kisses or Reese’s Pieces, you can feel a little less guilty about the sugar as you know you’re furthering Hershey’s goal of helping others.