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

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