Published on July 12, 2016
Milton Snavely Hershey (September 13, 1857 – October 13, 1945) was an American confectioner and philanthropist. He founded The Hershey Chocolate Company and the “company town” of Hershey, Pennsylvania, eventually becoming a great success. As he and his wife had no children, they turned to philanthropy.
He was honored by the United States Postal Service with the issue on September 13, 1995 of a 32¢ Great Americans series (1980–2000) definitive postage stamp (Scott #2933).
Milton Hershey was born on September 13, 1857 to Henry and Veronica “Fanny” Snavely Hershey. Born the son of a Christian father, his family were members of Pennsylvania’s Mennonite community. Hershey’s younger sister Serena, died when she was four of Scarlet Fever. His ancestors were Swiss and German and had settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. He grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch.Like many rural young people of the time, Milton was expected to help out on the family farm, and he learned early on of the value of hard work and perseverance. Henry Hershey rarely stayed anywhere very long, and was prone to leaving his wife and child for long periods. Because of this, Hershey had a very limited education with no schooling after 4th grade. He had two and a half years of education.
In 1871, Milton Hershey left school for good and was apprenticed to a local printer who published a German-English newspaper. He did not like that kind of work and he thought it was very boring. One day at work there, he accidentally dropped his hat in one of the machines. Because his boss was hot-tempered, he was fired shortly after. He was worried to see how his parents would react. His father asked Sam Ernst to take him back, and he did decide to give him a second chance, but his Aunt Maddie and mother had a different idea. They wanted him to learn the trade of candy making instead. So, his mother arranged for the 14-year-old Hershey to be apprenticed to a Lancaster County confectioner named Joseph Royer. Over the next four years, Hershey learned the craft of creating confections. In 1876, he moved to Philadelphia to start his first confectionery business.
Milton then traveled to Denver and, finding work at a local confectioners, learned how to make caramels using fresh milk. He then went to New Orleans and Chicago looking for opportunities, before settling in New York City in 1883 and training at Huyler’s. He started his second business which, while initially successful, lasted only three years, closing in 1886.
Lancaster Caramel Company
Hershey returned to Lancaster in 1883. He borrowed money from the bank to start the Lancaster Caramel Company, which quickly became an outstanding success. He used the caramel recipe he had obtained during his previous travels to make candies. Also, from his previous travels, he learned that caramels sell better in bulk, so that is what he did. This company soon became a success when a man from England visited Lancaster. He loved Hershey’s candies once he tasted them and placed a big order to be delivered to England. Hershey was able to pay off the debt from the bank and had some money leftover to buy more ingredients and equipment.
By the early 1890s Lancaster Caramel Company had gotten big, employing over 1,300 workers in two factories. After a travel to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, he sparked an interest in chocolate. After a long time of deciding, he took a risk and sold Lancaster Caramel Company for one million dollars to start the famous Hershey Chocolate Company.
The Hershey Chocolate Company
Using the proceeds from the 1900 sale of the Lancaster Caramel Company, Hershey initially acquired farm land roughly 30 miles northwest of Lancaster, near his birthplace of Derry Township, PA. There, he could obtain the large supplies of fresh milk needed to perfect and produce fine milk chocolate. Excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury product, Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and market and sell it to the American public. Through trial and error, he created his own formula for milk chocolate. The first Hershey bar was produced in 1900. Hershey’s Kisses were developed in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was introduced in 1908.
On March 2, 1903, he began construction on what was to become the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing company, only he did not know that it would become a large company. The facility, completed in 1905, was designed to manufacture chocolate using the latest mass production techniques. Hershey’s milk chocolate quickly became the first nationally marketed product of its kind.
The factory was in the center of a dairy farmland, but with Hershey’s support, houses, businesses, churches and a transportation infrastructure accreted around the plant. Because the land was surrounded by dairy farms, Hershey was able to use fresh milk to mass-produce quality milk chocolate. Hershey continued to experiment and perfect the process of making milk chocolate using the techniques he had first learned for adding milk to make caramels when he had moved to Drexel Hill.