Monday, June 28, 2010

Father of the Hershey Bar

Wedged in between the mindless "reality" shows and unfunny sitcoms that pass for television programming these days are the little gems that public television produces. The other night Long Island's station LIW ran a biographical piece on Milton S. Hershey, the man who early on recognized America's passion for chocolate and created a candy and entertainment empire that thrives to this day. Hershey was born in Pennsylvania in 1857 in a home built by his great-grandparents on 350 acres of prime Pennsylvania farmland. He did not live there long, however; his family moved frequently while his father pursued a multitude of unsuccessful business ventures. Because his family moved so often during his childhood, Milton Hershey’s education was necessarily hit-or-miss. In eight years of formal education, he attended seven different schools. All his life, Hershey was conscious of his limited education, so later in his life he was especially devoted to providing educational opportunities for others.

In 1871, Milton Hershey left school for good and was apprenticed to a local printer who published a German-English newspaper. But he didn’t like that kind of work, and the arrangement ended quickly. Next, his mother stepped in and succeeded in getting her son apprenticed to a Lancaster County confectioner named Joseph Royer. The 14-year-old Hershey (right in photo) turned out to have a natural talent for candy-making and in the next four years learned the art and science of creating tasty confections. Success did not come early or easily to Milton Hershey, but once he became an established businessman, Hershey was able to turn his attention to personal matters.

On a trip to Jamestown, NY, he met an attractive, 26-year-old woman with a sparkling personality. Her name was Catherine Sweeney, or “Kitty” as she was called by her family. The auburn-haired beauty immediately captured the older Hershey’s heart, and the couple was married in New York City on May 25, 1898. The marriage was a good one for both Kitty and Milton, with each doting on the other and the two of them traveling the world together. Still, the fact that they never had children remained a disappointment. Instead, the Hersheys established a boarding school for orphan boys and came to think of the boys as their family. In 1915, Kitty died following a long and debilitating illness. Milton Hershey never remarried, and for the rest of his life carried her picture with him everywhere he went.

With the dawn of the new century, after many years of experimentation, Milton Hershey had solved the mystery of making high-quality, affordable milk chocolate. But he also knew that in order to take advantage of the demand he was certain existed for this product, he would need a much larger facility. Hershey built a factory for manufacturing milk chocolate amid the rolling farmland of his birth in Derry Township, Pennsylvania. Ground was broken on March 2, 1903, and within two years the factory was turning out mouth-watering milk chocolate. Applying the concepts of mass production so successful in other industries, Hershey limited his production to only a few items in order to keep the cost of producing each as low as possible. In 1907, the company added HERSHEY’S KISSES Chocolates to its product line and followed up a year later with Hershey’s milk chocolate bar with almonds. Hershey packaged his candy to sell in grocery stores, newsstands and vending machines.

While the factory was being constructed, the rest of the town was being planned, including residences for the company’s employees. On streets with names like Trinidad, Java, Granada and Ceylon (all places where cocoa beans are grown), homes were built for Hershey workers and executives. Milton Hershey did not want his community to look like a factory town, so he instructed builders to use a variety of designs. Inevitably, the question arose as to what to name the community. Since it was not an incorporated entity (and still isn’t to this day), it had no governmental standing by itself, being merely a part of Derry Township. So the town was simply named after its post office: Hershey. Hershey also built for his employees a trolley system, community center, hotel, sports arena and picnic grounds that would grow into the entertainment and amusement park complex we know today.

Milton Hershey realized that all work and no play made for unhappy workers. So early on he set aside land in his model community for recreational purposes. The original picnic grounds, by 1910 had expanded to include a children’s playground, a band shell (with daily concerts!), a swimming pool, a zoo and a bowling alley. Hershey also added amusement rides, such as a model railway and carousel. Like the chocolate factory and, indeed, the town itself, Hershey Park quickly became a tourist attraction with excursion trains and trolleys bringing groups to Hershey from surrounding communities. Today, of course, HERSHEY PARK is 110 acres of excitement and fun for the whole family with over 60 rides and attractions, including ten world-class roller coasters.

Watching how this man, from relatively humble beginnings, was able to build not only a single business but an entire industry, was confirmation for me that America was and is the land of opportunity for those with the vision, imagination and work ethic to follow their dreams. Milton Hershey never forgot that his success was bound up with the employees who worked for him. There was a funny anecdote in the show telling how, even late in his life when Hershey was in his eighties, he would sneak away from the nurses assigned to care for him and visit the factory and the amusement park to talk to his workers and see how things were going. I am a great admirer of men like Hershey who not only made fortunes but gave back to the community in so many ways. Besides, what better reason is there to revere Milton Hershey than the fact that he perfected the production of my favorite treat, chocolate.

(Information excerpted from Hershey Park website)



Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Camp Pouch

Yesterday I played in a golf outing for the Boy Scouts of America. One of the special missions of the Scouts this year is to try to raise money to save Pouch Camp. This wooded retreat in the heart of Staten Island has provided camping grounds for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from the New York area for 60 years. The cash-strapped Greater New York Council of Boy Scouts, which owns the property, has left open the possibility of selling part of it to developers. The group, hit hard by the recession, has been operating at a deficit, and corporate and other donations have fallen by $5 million over the past 18 months — a big drop for an organization that until recently ran on a $15 million budget. The Boy Scouts hope that a conservation organization like the Trust for Public Land will buy the 140-acre property. The sale would provide as much as $30 million to the Boy Scouts, and see to it that the land is never developed for purposes like housing.

The prospect of Camp Pouch being turned into yet more houses on an already overdeveloped Staten Island is troubling indeed. When my sons were growing up, Pouch Camp was a frequent destination during their Scouting years. Both Mike and Matt spent years in the Boy Scouts of America, starting out as Cub Scouts and moving up. Matt made First Class Scout and Mike made it all the way to Eagle Scout. As often happens when children get involved with an organization, parents get pulled in too. I was a Scout Leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and saw up close how the values taught by Scouting made a difference in young men's lives. Even my daughter Laura participated in Brownies for a few years.

Camp Pouch hosted many Scouting events in its history. Because of its location, kids from not only the Staten Island area, but all over New York City, got a chance to enjoy cookouts, campouts, crafts, outdoor survival skills, and what it means to be part of a group. Scouting awards dozens of merit badges in a wide variety of skills. As our Troop's Advancement Chairman, I watched with great pleasure as our young men really applied themselves to complete the requirements for earning the badges needed to move up to the next Scouting rank. The effort they expended taught them much, not just about how to survive in the woods, but important life lessons about citizenship, disabilities awareness, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship and respecting the rights of others.

Scouting began in England in 1907-08, created by General Robert Baden-Powell, one of the few heroes to come out of Britain's Boer War. It took root in America starting around 1910, and was most influenced by three people: Ernest Thompson Seton, a famous writer and artist who founded a loosely structured boys' program called the Woodcraft Indians around 1901; James West, a Washington, DC attorney active in juvenile cases, created a well-organized national structure that was a key to the BSA's growth; and Daniel ("Uncle Dan") Beard, beloved by millions of American Boy Scouts during his lifetime. A well-known artist and outdoorsman, he had founded a Scout-like organization called the Sons of Daniel Boone about 1905. The Girl Scouts was founded by Juliette Gordon "Daisy" Low in 1912, and received a Congressional Charter in 1950.

The work of these pioneers has been carried on for over 100 years by thousands of dedicated men and women who have helped shape the lives of young people throughout the world. I was surprised to see men at the golf outing yesterday who are still active leaders in Boy Scouting. Many have been at it for 40 years or more, and their generosity in volunteering their time and energy is a wonderful thing. The number of meetings they attend, the camping trips in the pouring rain, the Pinewood Derbies where kids make and race wooden cars, the countless rubber chicken dinners they make time for so a kid can receive a well-earned promotion in rank...all of this is done with nothing asked in return. It was so sad to see the character of these good men and women dragged through the mud when, during the past few years, a few lowlifes connected with the Scout program were charged with molesting children. The media hype surrounding these incidents did much harm to Scouting and the kids who benefit from it.

Pouch Camp is a symbol of the great outdoors that this country once was. It gives kids, especially those from inner-city areas, a chance to get away to the "country" for a small taste of open spaces, trees, a lake for fishing and swimming, and to hear the quiet sounds of nature not mingled with blaring horns or fouled by car exhaust. Finding spaces like these is increasingly difficult, especially in cities like New York where land is scarce and real estate is such a valuable commodity. I guess the Boy Scouts of America can't be blamed for trying to survive by selling the assets they have, but once Pouch Camp is gone, it cannot be replaced. I'm thankful it was there for my kids, and I hope a solution can be found to preserve it for generations to come.


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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Enemy: Unions and Big Government

Every week I drive on the Gowanus/Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Courageous, no? About 15 years ago the DOT began a much needed 10-year repair program on this busy road. They are five years past the completion date and nowhere near done. Why so long? After all, the Empire State Building took just over a year to build from scratch. The mammoth Hoover Dam project that required rerouting the freakin' Colorado River took just five years. In looking at the reasons why things take so much longer today (even though we have more advanced technology and engineering methods) than they did decades ago, I came up with a couple of ideas.

First of all there is the growth of labor unions. When unions first appeared on the American work scene, there were good reasons to support them. Pay was poor, benefits sparse, and safety regulations were practically unknown. Workers were right to fight for decent treatment from greedy, uncaring employers. Over time however, the pendulum began swinging in the other direction. Union demands became excessive and union leaders grew as corrupt as the management they were battling. Union workers forgot what an honest day's work was and kept upping the ante every time contract renewal time came around. The resulting productivity losses translated into ridiculously protracted job completion times.

Another factor, maybe the main one, is excessive government regulation. Unsafe work practices led to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). Environmental regulation came next. In Niagara, New York, a company named Hooker Chemical dumped their toxic waste into an abandoned canal. In time, they covered it over, selling the land to the town for one dollar. The town of Niagara built residential housing on the site, but people soon began contracting cancer as the chemicals leeched out of the soil into the air and water. This environmental atrocity became know as Love Canal, and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and legislation like the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste generated by businesses from "cradle-to-grave."

Did big business bring this regulatory landslide down on their heads because of their insensitivity to the welfare of their employees and lack of respect for the land we will be passing on to our children? Of course they did. Did they deserve the landslide of crippling laws and regulations that created a sea of red tape and greatly increased the cost of doing business? I think not. Whenever bureaucrats develop a solution to a problem, it is never in proportion to the scope of the problem. They tend to use a steam shovel when a teaspoon is all that is required. Common sense rules to protect American workers and our environment are what we needed. That is not what we got.

When a government agency is created to solve a problem, it starts out with all good intentions. Soon however, it begins to lose focus, and the agency's objective shifts from solving the problem to preserving and growing itself. Bureaucrats multiply like rabbits, and soon these agencies are creating regulations not intended primarily to solve problems, but to create the need for more enforcement, more jobs, more political patronage and self-perpetuation. No thought is given to the burdens they are imposing on the businesses they regulate, who just pass the costs on to the rest of us. My son-in-law works in the field of environmental remediation, helping companies clean up contaminated sites before they can be built on. Companies like his sprang up just to help businesses cope with the tangle of federal, state and local regulations.

Honestly, most companies do not fully comply with safety and environmental regulations; they can't afford it. They do what the law absolutely requires, and hope they don't get caught taking a few shortcuts. The Tea Party phenomenon is gaining political ground in this country because people from all walks of life are getting tired of government spending and taxation. I think some of their tactics are a little crude, but I agree with their philosophy of less government. The liberal mantra of "tax the rich" is getting stale. Translated, it means take more and more money from people who worked hard for it and give it to failed government programs and to illegal immigrants or undeserving Americans who refuse to work.

And that's why the repairs to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will not be completed in my lifetime.


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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Wizard of Menlo Park

One of my plans to fend off dementia is to try to keep learning new things. We really enjoy visiting museums and historic places, so Saturday, in the stifling humidity, we set off for West Orange, New Jersey to tour the site of some of Thomas Alva Edison's greatest inventions. About a mile from the research lab complex stands Glenmont, the stately home of Edison, the Bill Gates of his day. I have a warm place in my heart for Mr. Edison since his genius at inventing not only the electric light, but the entire electric industry including power generation and distribution, allowed me to have a satisfying career of 30 years at the New York company that bears his name.

Edison was born in Milan, Ohio and lived for a time in Port Huron, Michigan where, as a twelve-year old he showed his industriousness and nose for making money by selling candy on the rail line between his home and the city of Detroit. Soon, at age 13, he was acting as an agent for local farmers along the train route by selling their produce to markets in the cities. Edison had very little formal education as a child, attending school only for a few months. He was taught reading, writing, and arithmetic by his mother, but was always a very curious child and schooled himself by reading on his own. This belief in self-improvement remained throughout his life, despite being over 90% deaf as the result of a childhood accident.

After saving the life of a station master's son by pushing the child out of the path of an oncoming train, Edison was taught telegraphy by the grateful father and given a job. His insatiable curiosity and dogged determination to solve problems led to the development of some early inventions like a device for speeding up counting of the floor votes in the U.S. Congress. Edison soon found out that politicians were not interested in speeding up anything, thus learning a valuable lesson. From that day on he vowed never to waste time inventing products and processes for which there was not already a market demand.

Edison moved to New York City in 1869. He continued to work on inventions related to the telegraph, and developed his first successful invention, an improved stock ticker called the "Universal Stock Printer". For this and some related inventions Edison was paid the princely sum of $40,000, giving him the money he needed to set up his first small laboratory and manufacturing facility in Newark, New Jersey in 1871. During the next five years, Edison worked in Newark inventing and manufacturing devices that greatly improved the speed and efficiency of the telegraph. He also found to time to get married to his first wife, Mary Stilwell and start a family.

In 1876 Edison sold his Newark manufacturing concerns and moved his family and staff to the small village of Menlo Park, twenty-five miles southwest of New York City. Edison established a new facility containing all the equipment necessary to work on any invention. This research and development laboratory was the first of its kind anywhere; the model for later, modern facilities such as Bell Laboratories. This teamwork approach to research is sometimes considered to be Edison's greatest invention. Here Edison began to change the world. The first great invention developed by Edison in Menlo Park was the tin foil phonograph. The first machine that could record and reproduce sound created a sensation and brought Edison international fame.

Other world-changing inventions included electric light and the electronics industry, motion pictures, the alkaline storage battery, the fluoroscope (an early forerunner of the X-ray which Edison chose not to patent so it would be available to the medical profession), the transmitter device that made the telephone possible...Alexander Graham Bell developed the receiver, and a host of other inventions, nearly 1100 patents in all. This period of success was marred by the death of Edison's wife Mary in 1884. After Mary's death, Edison constructed new lab facilities in West Orange, New Jersey. A year later, while vacationing at a friend's house in New England, Edison met Mina Miller and fell in love. The couple was married in February 1886 and moved to West Orange, New Jersey where Edison had purchased an estate, Glenmont, for his new bride. Thomas Edison lived here with Mina until his death in 1931.

In some ways Edison was more remarkable than Bill Gates in that he had to conceive from scratch ideas like generating/transmitting electricity, recording sound and filming motion pictures. Gates did not invent the computer, but he certainly revolutionized its use and brought it into households everywhere. I was proud to carry on Edison's traditions and work ethic during my 30-year career at Con Edison. Some of my inventions 1) turning a 15-minute work break into 30 minutes; 2) always leaving my suit jacket on the back of my chair to give the impression I was present when in fact I was across the street at Luchow's Bar, and 3) studying the sick day policy so I could get my days but not be out enough to require a doctors note. I know Tom would have been proud.


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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The 1964 World's Fair

Last night Long Island's channel LIW ran some wonderful footage of the 1964-65 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows. The fair, orchestrated by city planner and builder Robert Moses, was a huge deal for New York City, although we nearly didn't get it. The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), headquartered in Paris, was the body that sanctioned world's fairs. They had approved other sites for the next fair, and New York was not on the list. Moses, undaunted, journeyed to Paris to seek official approval for the New York Fair. When the BIE balked at New York's bid, Moses, used to having his way, angered the BIE delegates by taking his case to the press, publicly stating his disdain for their organization. The BIE retaliated by formally requesting its member nations not to participate in the New York Fair. The BIE decision was nearly a disaster for the fair. The absence of Canada, Australia most of the major European nations and the Soviet Union, all members of the BIE, tarnished the image of the fair, but we pressed on. Leave it to a nervy New Yorker to cut the line.

I made many visits to the fair to see the exhibits. What surprised me as the LIW documentary unfolded is how little I remembered. I generally remember things from the distant past better than I do things from the near past. The event was a major marketing opportunity for corporate giants like IBM, Bell Telephone Ford, and Mobile Oil who featured futuristic-themed attractions built around their products. There were also cultural exhibits from those countries who did participate, rides, restaurants, and of course the focal point of the fair, the Unisphere, which still stands in Queens today. It reminded me of Epcot Center in Disneyworld, and in fact a lot of Disney's amazing animatronic figures like those used in the Hall of Presidents and It's a Small World exhibits at Epcot were first developed for the 1964 World's Fair.

The biggest draw at the fair was Michaelangelo's incredible sculpture, The Pieta which was viewed by millions. People lined up for hours to get a look at one of the artist's finest works. Back then you were allowed to get up close for a glimpse at Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pieta, which was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman. A copy was transported beforehand to ensure that the statue could be conveyed without being damaged. Sadly, in 1972 in Italy, a mentally disturbed geologist attacked the sculpture with a geologist's hammer. After the attack, the work was painstakingly restored and returned to its place in St. Peter's, just to the right of the entrance, and is now protected by a bullet-proof glass panel.

Other popular exhibits included that of the IBM Corporation, where a giant five hundred-seat grandstand was pushed by hydraulic rams high up into a rooftop theater. There, a nine-screen film showed the workings of computer logic. The Bell System hosted a 15-minute ride in moving armchairs depicting the history of communications in dioramas and film. Other Bell exhibits included the picture phone (to go on sale at the time of the fair) as well as a demonstration of the computer modem. DuPont presented a musical review called "The Wonderful World of Chemistry." The Sinclair Oil Corporation sponsored Dinoland, featuring life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs, including the corporation's signature brontosaurus. An informal poll of youngsters under eight years of age who attended the fair indicated that they overwhelmingly considered Dinoland to be the "coolest" exhibit at the fair.

One of the fair's major shortcomings was the absence of a real midway area. The fair's organizers were opposed, on principle, to the honky-tonk atmosphere engendered by midways, and what amusements the fair actually had ended up being largely dull. The Meadow Lake Amusement Area wasn't easily accessible, and officials objected to shows there being advertised. Furthermore, although the Amusement Area was supposed to remain open for 4 hours after the exhibits closed at 10 p.m., the Fair presented a fountain-and-fireworks show every night at 9 p.m. at the Pool of Industry. Fairgoers would see this show and then leave the fair rather than head over to the Amusement Area; one was hard pressed to see anyone on the fairgrounds by midnight.

Almost all of the people interviewed by LIW talked fondly about their memories of the fair. They especially recalled a treat which could be had for a dollar, The Belgian Waffle. These delights were sold in a recreation of a medieval Belgian village, which proved very popular with fairgoers. A combination of waffle, strawberries and whipped cream, Belgian Waffles are credited to a couple in Brussels, Belgium—Maurice Vermersch and his wife. On one of my many visits to the fair, I must have enjoyed at least one, but I just have no recollection of it. (Highly unusual for me to forget anything connected with food.)

There seems to have been a pullback from the kind of spectacular world fairs we knew. I guess in today's anxious climate, security issues would be a deal breaker. Too bad...our children and grandchildren should have the privilege of experiencing them as we did, even if I can't remember it.


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