Milton Hershey was born in Derry Township, Pennsylvania, in 1857. A few years later, the Civil War started. He heard cannons from miles away at the Battle of Gettysburg.
His parents separated when he was ten. Five years later he became an apprentice for Joseph Royer, a candy maker in Lancaster. He learned to make fudge, peppermint, and caramels and loved being a confectioner.
At nineteen, he borrowed $150 from his aunt and opened a candy business. Though he worked hard, the business failed.
He moved to Denver where he worked for candy maker who used fresh milk to make caramel, furthering his skills. Milton then opened a business in Chicago. It failed. A new business he started in New York failed. He returned to Lancaster in 1883 and launched the Lancaster Caramel Company. This one was a success.
Ten years later, The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago educated him about making chocolate. He then established Hershey Chocolate Company and focused on a recipe for milk chocolate that was delicious and affordable. In 1900, he sold Lancaster Caramel Company for $1,000,000 to focus on the chocolate.
Hershey built a new candy factory in Derry Church, Pennsylvania, that opened in 1905. There were plenty of dairy farms in the area to supply milk for the chocolate. Yet his factory workers needed a place to live so he built houses, churches, schools, parks, and a post office to establish a new town—Hershey.
Learning from past failures, Hershey focused on one product—a milk chocolate candy bar. His factory made many of them and sold them at prices everyone could afford.
Unable to have children, Milton and his wife, Catherine, established the Hershey Industrial School for orphaned boys. Catherine died in 1915. Three years later, long before his death in 1945, Milton transferred his ownership in Hershey Chocolate Company to Hershey Trust, which funded the school.
When the Great Depression settled over the country, Hershey put his fellow townsmen to work by constructing new offices for his company, a hotel, and a community building. While the rest of the country struggled to make ends meet, the town of Hershey thrived.
World War II started a few years later. Hershey sent chocolate bars (Ration D Bars and Tropical Chocolate Bars) to our military.
Hershey’s giving spirit still lives on. Today Hershey Industrial School, now known as Milton Hershey School, also includes girls. Around 1,900 girls and boys attend annually.
Milton and Catherine Hershey left a lasting legacy in the town that bears their name. Had he given up after those many early failures, jobs for countless people wouldn’t have been available, a town wouldn’t exist, and a school for orphaned boys wouldn’t have opened.
What an inspiration to persevere in the face of difficulties … and perhaps help a neighbor along the way.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Biography.com Editors. “Milton Hershey Biography,” The Biography.com, 2020/01/02 https://www.biography.com/business-figure/milton-hershey.
Nelson, Ken. “Biography for Kids: Milton Hershey.” Ducksters, Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI), www.ducksters.com/biography/entrepreneurs/milton_hershey.php. Accessed 2 January 2020.
“Who was Milton Hershey?” The Hershey Story, 2020/01/02 https://hersheystory.org/milton-hershey-history/