With little formal education and having gone bankrupt twice before he was 30, Milton S. Hershey didn’t exactly start out as a brilliant success. But there might have been something in the water of rural Pennsylvania that gave Milton what was needed to make it big. He used his wits and instincts to become one of America’s wealthiest individuals, a successful entrepreneur and a generous philanthropist who touched countless lives.
After apprenticing with a candy maker as a teenager, Hershey was all in. Unfortunately, though, his first candy business in Philadelphia failed. Then his second candy business in New York City also failed. Finally, he got it right in Lancaster using a skill he learned from a confectioner in Denver for making caramels with fresh milk. Soon his Lancaster Caramel Company was employing 1,400 people and shipping caramels all over the U.S. and Europe.
At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Hershey was fascinated by an exhibit of German chocolate-making machinery. He purchased two of the machines on exhibit and had them shipped to Lancaster. With additional equipment, he began producing chocolate coatings for his caramels. The growing demand for chocolate itself inspired him to retool his entire operation to manufacture a unique recipe for milk chocolate. Soon he was mass-producing what had once been a luxury reserved only for the wealthy. Now anyone could afford a delicious “Hershey bar.”
It was the turn of the century, chocolate was booming and Hershey was inspired again. He sold the caramel business and broke ground for a new chocolate factory in nearby Derry Township, where he was born. Like many forward-thinking industrialists of the age, he believed workers who were treated fairly and who lived in comfortable environments would be better workers. He established a model community that included housing, schools, churches, parks — even a trolley system. The unprecedented range of amenities made Hershey, Pennsylvania, a whole new kind of industrial town.
On a trip to Jamestown, New York, Hershey met a 26-year-old woman with a sparkling personality named Catherine Sweeney. The auburn-haired beauty immediately captured Hershey’s heart, and the couple married in New York City on May 25, 1898.
Although the Hersheys never had children, they established a boarding school for orphan boys and came to think of the boys as their family. The Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys, today called the Milton Hershey School, now educates nearly 2,000 underprivileged boys and girls. The unique school continues to consider each student and staff part of the family. Before his death in 1945, Hershey transferred the bulk of his considerable wealth to the Milton Hershey School Trust to ensure the school’s continued success.
Milton Hershey brought his vision for the town to life through an array of significant construction projects. He didn't just build a town. He built a community with facilities, civic centers and cultural institutions that continue to grow today.
Cocoa House: Originally served as the town center with a store, a bank, a post office, boarding rooms and a lunchroom.
High Point Mansion: The Hersheys’ modest but inviting estate on a hill overlooking the chocolate factory.
Community Building: Italian Renaissance-style recreation building with an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, library, hospital, game rooms, cafeteria and world-class theater.
The Hotel Hershey: 170-room hotel with panoramic vistas and the finest in comfort.
Hersheypark: Originally planned as picnic grounds and expanded to include a children’s playground, band shell, swimming pool, zoo, bowling alley and amusement rides.
Hershey Sports Arena: This Depression-era sports arena was constructed to house the local ice hockey team.
Milton S. Hershey proved himself to be a courageous entrepreneur, a determined builder and a compassionate humanitarian. To extend his legacy beyond the company he founded, he created financial trusts to preserve the town’s many institutions. In addition to creating the Hershey Trust Company for the Milton Hershey School, he created The M.S. Hershey Foundation in the depths of the Great Depression to help fund educational and cultural activities in Derry Township (the town now known as Hershey, PA). Another institution initially funded by the legacy of Mr. Hershey’s fortune, The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, has emerged as one of the nation’s leading healthcare facilities, offering a full spectrum of advanced medical services and turning out thousands of well-prepared doctors, nurses and scientists from its College of Medicine.