Milton S. Hershey c. 1905
Hershey Community Archives
Life and Times
Milton Snavely Hershey lived from 13 September 1857 to 13 October 1945.
Famed now for both his candy products and his enlightened business practices, many of his ideas actually came from Cadbury’s in England.
Hershey’s first success with candy — caramel — didn’t come along until he was nearly 40 years old.
He had some education, but not much, only up to Grade Four. He didn’t leave much of anything in writing behind; some speculate he may not have been comfortable enough with his literacy skills.
In business with others, Hershey always drove a hard bargain, and was not above sending people to spy on what his rivals were doing. With his workers, though, he was devoted — and dictatorial. He set up a profit-sharing plan for them, the first in America, and made it a point of not laying anyone off during the depression. When during the depression he was told that a new machine was doing the work that forty men used to, he told the foreman to get rid of the machine and get the men back. He found work for other men erecting new buildings in the growing town of Hershey.
Yet, he could also be dictatorial. He once fired a hapless office worker who, not knowing who he was, asked Hershey to fetch him a glass of water. He did not allow alcohol in the town of Hershey; he used private investigators to ferret out people who were drinking in the town. And while driving around town, he would make a note of which houses hadn’t kept their front lawns mown.
He smoked 8 to 10 cigars a day; until 1916, his favourite brand was Golden Lion; during a trip to Cuba that year with his mother, he switched his preference to Corona-Coronas. A stamp issued in his honour on 13 September 1995 had him on it — but in deference to the times, omitted the cigar.
The Hershey family in America started with Mennonites who had fled religious prosecution in the Appenzell region of eastern Switzerland sometime in the early 1700s. Milton was born 13 September 1857 on a 350-acre farm built by his grandparents Isaac and Anna Hershey in 1826 in Hockersville, Derry Township, in Central Pennsylvania. His parents were Henry and Veronica “Fanny” Snavely Hershey. Henry was a tall man, considered good-looking by many. Henry met Fanny when he called at her house, working as a door to door travelling salesman. Fanny’s family was a Mennonite family that spoke “Pennsylvania Dutch”; her father was Bishop Abraham Snavely of the Reformed Mennonite Church. Fanny adhered to plain Mennonite dress all her life.
Henry had a sister, Serina, born in 1862.
Chronology of his life
- 1866 — When Milton was nine years old, his family moved to Nine Points, Lancaster County, to be closer to Fanny’s parents. They bought a farm from an uncle of Fanny. Henry tried to start a trout fish farm there, but the business wasn’t a success.
- 1867 — Milton’s sister Serina died, aged five, and was buried in her mother’s family plot at the New Danville Mennonite Cemetery. Around this time, Milton’s mother told Henry’s father to get out, she’d had enough of his string of unsuccessful business ventures
- 1871 — At the age of fourteen, Milton got his first job as an apprentice at a German-language newspaper in Gap, Pennsylvania for a man named Samuel Ernst. But Milton hated the work, and provoked his own firing by dropping his hat into the printing press, and came home to Nine Points.
- 1872 — At the age of 15, Milton got a job as an apprentice with a candymaker named Joe Royer in Lancaster. His mother paid Royer to take Milton on. He liked the work, and stayed on with Royer for 4 years.
- 1876 — When Milton was 19, he moved to Philadelphia. Expecting great sales because of all the people that would be coming there for the 100th American anniversary, he quickly talked his uncle Uncle Abraham Snavely into lending him money to help him set up a candy business. His mother and his Aunt Mattie even came into the city to help him. Aunt Mattie also loaned him $150. Milton’s business opened 1 June 1876 on 935 Spring Garden Street. He worked all night making the candy, and the women sold it during the day. The price of the candy was a penny each. Milton called it “French Secrets” because it had a message inside. He made money, but not enough to pay off all his debts, let alone turn a profit, and the high and volatile cost of sugar helped to do him in. Later in life, he would make sure he had his own supply of sugar.
- 1877 — His father finally sold what had previously been the family farm to finance some business ventures, which were also unsuccessful.
- 1882 — Milton abandoned the Philadelphia business, forced to declare bankruptcy after 7 years of hard work. He spent the next four years moving around, trying his hand in Denver, New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. His father, who was working in the silver mines in Denver, had sent him letters saying that Denver was booming, but the silver mining entered a slump just before Milton arrived. So instead of mining, Milton got a job with a local caramel maker who made caramels from fresh milk. After Denver, he followed his father to Chicago and stayed there for a short while, but decided there was already too much candy competition there. He then checked out New Orleans, but decided that he’d never swing the expense of moving his candy equipment down that far. In the end, he decided to try New York City.
- 1883 — Milton arrived in New York in 1883. He worked for a short while at the candy shop called Huyler’s. He then briefly ran a business of his own making taffy and cough drops, in his own store on Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets. But even though his mother and Aunt Mattie showed up again to help him out, competition was very tough and he just didn’t have enough money to make a go of it. He had just enough money to give his mother and his aunt to get back home.
- 1886 — Milton returned to Lancaster penniless, and most of his relatives on his mother’s side dismissed him as being as irresponsible as his father. But Milton hadn’t given up on candy yet. His Aunt Mattie lent him some money to rent a room in which to live, and buy some ingredients. He experimented with making a caramel candy from milk which he called “Crystal A” caramels. He made them during the day, then during the evening loaded them up in a pushcart and flogged them on the streets. He managed to get an English candy importer to order 500 pounds sterling worth of his caramels, and got a bank loan from the Lancaster County National Bank to bridge finance him. And his luck held — the cheque from the English importer actually came through. Milton called his company the “Lancaster Caramel Company.” Within a few years, people in Lancaster had changed their opinion of him as his caramel factory grew to cover an entire city block in Lancaster.
- 1891 — Milton had enough money to buy a large house at 222 South Queen Street in Lancaster, and re-model and re-landscape it.
- 1893 — Milton went to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He bought some German chocolate-making machinery and had it shipped back to Lancaster, and started making chocolate. In the first year, he had it make chocolate coatings for his caramels.
- 1894 — Milton founded the Hershey Chocolate Company.
- 1895 — Milton branched out into chocolate bars, drinking chocolate and baking chocolate. His long-term business idea was, though, that if he could mass-produce milk chocolate, he could make it affordable enough for everyone to buy regularly. He sold his chocolate bars for five cents.
- 1897 — Milton bought back his grand-parents farm in Derry Township. His father went to live in the farmhouse there until he died in 1904. His mother, who was still estranged from her husband, lived with Milton in Lancaster. Milton would go out to the farmstead to do his experiments through trial and error at making a blend of milk chocolate that he was happy with.
- 1898 — On 25 May 1898, Milton married Catherine “Kitty” Sweeney, an Irish Roman Catholic, whom he’d met on a trip to Jamestown, New York when she was 26. They were married in the rectory of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His mother moved out of the mansion into a house he bought her at 143 Duke Street in Lancaster. Milton and Kitty had no children. Kitty always maintained her distance from the business.
- 1900 — Milton decided to focus on chocolate. On 10 August 1900, he sold his Caramel company for $1 million US to competitors (by now, no doubt, the folks in Lancaster must have been saying that they’d believed in him all along.) He rented a wing of the factory back from the new owner to keep on making chocolate. He decided to build a large company factory in Derry Township on farmland. His wife and business associates thought he was mad, as it was in the middle of nowhere. But he would be near the dairy supply that he would need, and the land for building, and for future growth, would be cheap compared to locating in a big city.
- 1902 — He started quietly buying up the land he would need.
- 1903 — Construction started on 6 acres of land, near the Dauphin-Reading Turnpike on 2 March 1903, and was completed in 1905. Right at the start, he decided he needed to build accommodation for his workers as well, since the factory was in the middle of nowhere, so construction of the town Hershey started in 1903 as well. He put in a bank, a school, churches, parks, a zoo and trolley cars for public transportation.
- 1904 — Construction of homes for the workers started in 1904. Every home was built with indoor plumbing and electricity as standard, at a time when only 8% of the homes in the US had electricity. At the same time, Milton and Catherine built a new mansion near the new plant. They called the house “High Point”, because the site was on a hillside overlooking where the chocolate factory would be. While it was being built, they lived with Milton’s father Henry at the farmhouse. In the same year, the first public run of the trolley system was conducted on 21 October 1904 by the Hummelstown & Campbelltown Street Railway (later renamed on 13 December 1913 to the Hershey Transit Company.)
- 1905 — Hershey Post Office opens in temporary premises in Cocoa House in Hershey, after some resistance from government officials. In 1906, a dedicated post office building was ready.
- 1907 — Milton invents Hershey’s Kisses. In the same year, Hershey Park opened on 24 April 1907. It expanded gradually, and rides were added. Soon the park became an attraction in itself, and not just for people in Hershey. Though admission was initially free, since the early 1970s it has been a paid-entrance theme park.
- 1908 — Milton and Catherine’s new mansion was ready to move into. Made of limestone like many of the houses in Hershey and designed by C. Emlen Urban, it had 22 rooms. At the same time, his mother Fanny moved into a brick house across from the factory, where Milton would stop in every day to see her.
- 1909 — On 15 November 1909, Milton and Catherine founded the Hershey Industrial School (renamed to “Milton Hershey School” in 1951) on his grand-parent’s farm for orphan boys to train them in trades. The first intake of students was 4 orphan boys. The first schoolhouse was Milton parent’s old home. Only in the 1970s did the school start admitting girls.
- 1915 — Catherine died on 25 March 1915, aged 42. She had been ill for some time with a neurological disease. Milton was 58. He never remarried, but carried her picture on him for the rest of his life.
- 1918 — On 13 November, Milton established the Milton Hershey School Trust and made the school the heir to $60 million of stock in the company in a confidential bequest, which remained confidential until the New York Times ferreted it out in 1923. As of 1999, the school’s trust fund was worth about $5 billion US; by 2002, it was worth $10 billion US. (Later, during a 29 day strike in 1953, workers carried signs through the town saying “Why Should We Support the Orphans?”)
- 1924 — Milton trademarked the design of the Hershey’s Kisses packaging.
- Reputedly, in the late 1920s, Hershey was planning to sell the company in a way that would still allow him control, but abandoned those plans when the depression hit.
- 1930 — He created the The Milton Hershey School Alumni Association to help students from the industrial school keep in touch with one another and help the school. In the same year, he had his home High Point converted into a club house for the Hershey Country Club. Milton kept on living in a sitting room and a bedroom upstairs on the second floor. The house is now the offices of the Hershey Trust Company.
- 1934 — Two Hershey town institutions opened: the Hotel Hershey, built in a Spanish style, and the Hershey Museum, based on a collection of Indian artifacts. A new building for the boys school building opened as well.
- 1935 — There were 5 different churches in Hershey. Milton gave each of them $20,000 to help them make it through the depression.
- 1937 — From 1930 to 1936, the height of the depression, the company had made a profit of $37 million US, but still Milton lowered wages. Discontent finally broke out in 1937. Some say that it’s because workers wanted their 60-hour work week decreased to 40 hours as had started to become common owing to the National Recovery Act of 1933 (though it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1935), as well as a 10% pay rise. Milton laid off people who had tried to form a union. On 2 April 1937, 400 workers started a sit-down strike in the plant that went on for four days around the clock. Farmers in the area were angry, as the plant couldn’t buy any milk so the farmers had to throw it out. The workers were ordered to leave the plant, but didn’t. After 5 days, the farmers and angry company suppers stormed the factory on 7 April 1937 at 1 pm, to drive the workers out of the factory, and violence ensued. Hershey was in shock. He was 80 at the time and couldn’t understand why all this was happening.
- 1939 — The company agreed to deal with a union with a union contract.
- During World War Two, Hershey’s supplied Field Ration “D.” (“D.” standing for “daily”), chocolate bars designed not to melt. Hershey’s Kisses were not made from 1942 to 1949, owing to shortages of the silver foil they were wrapped in.
- 1945 — Milton celebrated his 88th birthday on 13 September 1845 in the farmhouse, in the very room he had been born in.
- 1945 — Milton died of heart failure on 13 October 1945, aged 88, at 10:00 A.M. in the Hershey Hospital, still living at High Point. The funeral was held in the school, with senior class boys as his pallbearers. He, his parents and his wife are buried together in Hershey Cemetery. At his death, his will was only three paragraphs long. What he personally owned amounted to only $20,000 US, as he had already given everything away.
- 2001 — Hershey still controls 43% of the domestic chocolate sold in the United States. Richard H. Lenney, former of Kraft Foods corporation, is the first outside to become CEO of the Hershey company.
- 2002 — A 44 day strike occurred, the longest in the company’s history. Lenney wanted workers to pay a greater portion of their health insurance (12% of the actual cost of it instead of 6%), and increase their co-payment on prescription drugs. Workers objected, particularly because, they said, they had seen management give themselves pay rises first.
- 2002 — The Hershey Trust Company which owned the majority of voting stock in the Hershey company decided to sell off its Hershey stock. Lenney resisted the sale at first, but the board threatened to replace him if he did not support their attempts to sell off the company. Bidders included multinationals such as Wrigley, Nestle and Cadbury Schweppes. Feelings ran very high in the town of Hershey, because it threatened the very nature of the town itself, and most of the board members who voted to end all this were “auslanders” — to use the local Pennsylvania Dutch expression — foreigners, outsiders. The board narrowly voted twice against the decision; it was re-organized later to ensure that six of its ten members would be people from the local area.
Milton first went there in January 1916 with his mother. In the 1920s, he built the largest sugar refinery on the island near Santa Cruz. He also reproduced his model of a worker’s village, building a town for the people, and building the only electric railway on the island, the Hershey Cuban Railroad, to get workers and supplies to the factory. He also bought a home there with a 10 acre garden. In the 1920s, he opened a school for orphans in Rosario, Cuba. In 1933, he was awarded the “Grand Cross of the National Order of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes” by Cuban president Gerardo Machado for his contributions to the country. By 1945, the Hershey company had more than 65,000 acres in production in Cuba. A year after his death, the company sold its Cuban possessions to the Cuban Atlantic Sugar Company.
Cummins, H.J.. Candymaker’s story: Not all sugary, and not all smooth. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: The Star Tribune. 22 March 2006.
D’Antonio, Michael. A Real-Life Willy Wonka. New York City: BusinessWeek Magazine. 23 January 2006.
Rohland, Pamela. What Would Milton Do? Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Central PA Magazine. November 2002.
Sherman, Paul. Hershey Chocolate workers strike in Pennsylvania. World Socialist Web Site. 25 May 2002. Retrieved August 2006 from http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/may2002/hers-m25.shtml.