Born in 1857, Milton S. Hershey is one of American History’s most popular entrepreneurs. A confectioner by trade, Hershey founded the famous Hershey Chocolate Company as well as his company town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Today, this company is known as Hershey Foods Corporation and is the largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America. Hershey created a monumental company though his formal education went no further than the completion of fourth grade.
Hershey was born in Derry Church, Pennsylvania (renamed “Hershey” in 1906) on a farm to a largely Mennonite family. He was the only child to survive of parents Henry and Fanny Hershey. While a child, Hershey’s family moved around considerably and he finally dropped out of school. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania he had an unsuccessful apprenticeship with a printer. After abandoning this pursuit, he completed an apprenticeship with the candy maker Joseph Royer. He finished his training in 1876. With financial help from his mother’s family, Hershey first set up a confectionary business in Philadelphia. After this proved unsuccessful he made another attempt in New York City which also proved unsatisfactory.
After returning to Lancaster in 1883, Hershey founded the Lancaster Caramel Company which he based on a caramel recipe he discovered while traveling. This venture was an immense success and cemented Hershey’s reputation as a candy maker. A decade later at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, Hershey chanced upon machinery used to produce German chocolate and purchased it. A few years later he sold his caramel company and purchased land near Derry Church where he would build his chocolate-making plant. The location was ideal for procuring large quantities of fresh milk which Hershey needed in order to make milk chocolate. He worked to create a recipe for his own milk chocolate, which at the time, was still a luxury import from Switzerland.
Hershey’s plant was ready to produce one of the most successful confectionary products in U.S. history, Hershey’s milk chocolate, in 1905. In subsequent years, Hershey also built a company town for his employees. Unlike other company towns, Hershey built a model devoid of standard row houses and filled with well-kept lawns, recreational facilities, and parks. Hershey had married Catherine Sweeney in 1898 and the couple had no children. Instead, Hershey steered his financial success into philanthropic pursuits. He established the Hershey Industrial School. Today, the Milton Hershey School Trust has the controlling share of stock in the Hershey Company as well as the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company. Hershey died in 1945 and is remembered as one of the nation’s most successful business men; he is honored for placing the well-being of his workers in high regard.