Friday, August 8, 2014

Milton Hershey: More Than A Candy Maker

My mother-in-law invited me to accompany her to her high school reunion in Hershey, Pennsylvania this September. Yes, the birthplace of Hershey's chocolate. How could I say no to that?

I like mine with almonds :D

She sat down with me and started talking about her childhood, and what it was like growing up in Hershey at that time. I had no idea that Milton Hershey, the chocolate empire's founder, was such a wonderful human being.

When Milton Hershey was a boy, he had to help out on the family farm, as many children did then. His father moved the family around a lot, and, as a result, Milton did not attend school after the fourth grade.

In 1887, he moved back to Lancaster and started the Lancaster Caramel Company. He used a caramel recipe he had picked up during his travels. It was an instant success, and he sold that company and used the proceeds to start making chocolate. He moved about 30 miles north to a place near Derry Church, where fresh milk was plentiful.

He built his plant in the center of dairy farmland, and, with his support, transportation and an infrastructure of houses, businesses, and churches sprouted up in the area. The plant was incredibly successful, and everyone in Hershey profited from his success.

He married in 1898, but they could not have children, so they decided to help others. They started the Hershey Industrial School to help orphaned boys in the area. My mother-in-law said that it was easy to pick out a "Hershey boy" because they were always dressed in the best clothes, and it was a big deal to date a boy from the Hershey school. She said that Milton Hershey believed in supporting local businesses and always ordered clothes for the boys from the local department stores every year.

The school still exists today. It's now called the Milton Hershey School and serves male and female students from various backgrounds.

The school wasn't the only philanthropic work that Hershey was involved in. He started the M.S. Hershey Foundation that provides educational and cultural opportunities to Hershey residents. He also provided chocolate bars to soldiers during World War II.

My mother-in-law said that he was incredibly well loved in Hershey and the surrounding areas for his generosity and personal involvement in the community.

An interesting side note: The Hershey's were booked on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but they had to cancel at the last minute because Milton had some business that required his attention. The check he wrote to the White Star Line is in the archives of The Hershey Story Museum.

And here I thought I was just going to see a chocolate factory. Can't wait to share my trip with all of you!