Milton Hershey
Answer to Name This Famous Person Game - January 2013

by Mike McLeod

Milton Hershey was correctly identified by: Sherry Blanton and Julie Kimbrell of Old School Antique Mall in Sylva, N.C.; Scott and Carolyn Brown of Memories Flea Market and Antique Mall in Prattville, Ala.; Ted Carlton from a canyon rim in Utah; and Mark Kennedy of Kennedy’s Auction Service in Selmer, Tenn.

Milton Hershey was a remarkable person in many ways. He overcame a lack of education and more than one business failures to found a highly successful worldwide company, and he topped it off with major philanthropic donations, including a medical hospital and a home and schools for orphans.

Milton Snavely Hershey was born on Sept. 13, 1857 in Dauphin County, Penn., near what is today the City of Hershey. His parents were Henry Hershey and Veronica “Fanny” Snavely, and they were Mennonites. Henry was a wanderer who invested in many businesses which failed, and Fanny was a devout, hard-working, down-to-earth person. Their differences eventually overcame their feelings for one another, and Milton’s parents separated.

Because of his father’s lust for travel, Milton’s education was scant, encompassing only a few years of elementary school. Fanny put Milton to work early in his life as an apprentice to a printer, but unlike Benjamin Franklin, printing was not Milton’s forte. Fanny then found him another apprenticeship with a confectioner, which one can see was an inspiration. Besides, what teenager would not want to work for a candy maker?

Milton learned the business of making candy, and after four years, he set out on his own. He set up a confectionary in Philadelphia, but after six years of hard work, the business failed. He then moved to Colorado where he worked for another confectioner who made caramel. He learned that trade and then moved to New York to set up yet another business—that failed.

“Difficulties show men what they are." -- Milton Hershey

Moving back to Lancaster, Penn., Milton Hershey once again set up a candy business, the Lancaster Caramel Company, and this time, it succeeded. He eventually employed 1,400 people in his factory and sold caramel throughout the United States and Europe.

In 1893, he decided to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There, he found an exhibit from Germany on chocolate making. This he knew was the future for him. He bought all of the candy-making equipment in the exhibit and shipped it to his factory. There, he began making chocolate.

Today, milk chocolate is a common, everyday candy—thanks in part to Milton Hershey. But at that time, only the rich could afford it. The Swiss kept the recipe a closely held secret, and the cost of milk chocolate was high. Having learned how to make caramel with milk, Milton Hershey experimented intensely until he discovered the right recipe for milk chocolate.

Hershey decided to put all his eggs in one basket and bank his future on chocolate. He sold the Lancaster Caramel Company for $1 million. In 1900, that was equal to about $27 million today. Milton Hershey could have retired with the profits from his business, but he was a man driven and destined to do great good.

After setting up shop in his old homestead, which he bought, Milton’s chocolate making was a success. It was not very long before he realized he needed to expand his business on a grand scale. He then did something that others warned him against. He decided to build a factory and a model town in the countryside among dairy farms, rather than near a town. It was located in what is today Hershey, Penn.

Along with his factory, Hershey also built a factory town, but not the typical row-house factory town of that day. Hershey constructed a real town, one with single-family homes, parks, churches and so on.

“He believed, along with the more forward-thinking industrialists of the age, that workers who were treated fairly and who lived in a comfortable, pleasant environment would be better workers… As time went on, Hershey saw to it that the town (named Hershey, naturally) added a community building, a department store, a convention hall, an amusement park, a swimming pool and schools.”1

As you know, the company was a success for Milton Hershey, and it was also a boon for his employees. They all benefited from his foresight and his generosity. During the Depression, he began a building program that employed hundreds of people.

“As the Depression deepened, Milton Hershey undertook a major construction program, which became known as the Great Building Campaign. During the 1930s, more than 600 men found work building many structures that later became major tourist attractions. Hotel Hershey, Hershey Community Theatre, the Community Building, the Hershey Industrial Junior-Senior High School, Hershey Sports Arena, the Stadium and several other smaller projects transformed the community into a major tourist destination.”2

In 1898, Milton married Catherine “Kitty” Sweeney, and the couple was very happy together. Their one regret was not having children. Yet, this eventually yielded a great blessing for thousands of children. Out of their want for a family, they created the Hershey Industrial School, a boarding school for orphan boys. The boys received an education and learned a skill at the school, and they also worked in the company’s dairies and were paid a minor wage.

Milton Hershey’s legacy lives on. “Today, the school provides a free K-12 education and a home on a 9,000-acre campus to more than 1,200 3 underprivileged boys and girls.” 4

In 1918, Hershey assigned his wealth and his companies to a trust he created to support the school. “…Milton Hershey's original funding of 486 acres of land and $60 million in Hershey Chocolate Company stock…have grown to a value exceeding $8 billion today.” 5 The trust also manages the M.S. Hershey Foundation and other philanthropic efforts.

"It isn't what you leave your children but how you leave them."

To Milton’s great sorry, Kitty died early in 1915. Milton lived until Oct. 13, 1945 when he had a heart attack. He was 88.

Even so, his generosity lives on beyond the school, the company and the town. In 1963, the School Trust donated $50 million and land to Penn State University for a medical center, which includes a medical facility, the Penn State College of Medicine and a children’s hospital. In December 2012, the Hershey Company announced its support of a project that distributes vitamin-enriched nutritional packets to impoverished children in rural Ghana.

When asked what his religion was, it was reported that he said, “The Golden Rule."


2 Hershey Community Archives,
3 The Hershey Trust Company’s website lists the number of children enrolled at the school today as 1,800.
5 Hershey Trust Company,
The Hershey Company, and provided information for this article. 

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