Milton Snavely Hershey, a German-speaking Mennonite farmer who turned his passion for confections into a symbol of American affluence and goodwill, was born in Derry Township, Penn., on this day in history, Sept. 13, 1857.
“Milton Hershey was the rarest of men — both a dreamer and a builder,” notes his biography at the Candy Hall of Fame, into which the chocolatier was inducted in 1972.
He founded both the Hershey Chocolate Co. and the Milton Hershey School.
The school, which he opened in 1910 to educate orphans, thrives today as a prominent free educational institution serving underprivileged students.
“His first two candy companies were met with failure,” the Hershey Company writes in its history of the founder, nothing that by age 26 the entrepreneur was penniless.
“It wasn’t until his third business that Milton’s hard work and talent paid off. From then on, Milton prospered as a successful businessman and generous humanitarian.”
Hershey had only a fourth-grade education when his father put him to work as a printer’s apprentice.
He then developed a taste for the candy business.
He opened his first candy shop in Philadelphia in 1876. It failed six years later.
Hershey then attempted to become a candy maker in other cities, before returning to Lancaster, Penn.
He launched the Lancaster Caramel Co in 1886 and then, eight years later, a subsidiary called the Hershey Chocolate Co.
“Caramels are a fad; chocolate is permanent,” Hershey told a colleague, according to official company history.
“I am going to make chocolate.”
Chocolate, which comes from the bitter beans of the cacao pod, had been consumed for centuries.
Hershey pioneered a sweeter, more affordable version called milk chocolate.
“Hershey was not the first to make milk chocolate,” reports the Hershey Company, noting that Swiss confectioners made a version with powdered milk.
“But he was the first to make it out of fresh milk using mass production techniques.”
This delicious invention changed the way America, and the world, eats candy.
He sold off his caramel company and introduced the first Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars in 1900. It proved an incredible success.
The company town of Hershey, Penn., was established in 1903. Hershey Park opened in 1906. Hershey Kisses were introduced in 1907.
Hershey Chocolate thrived during World War II, when the company controlled the heavily rationed American chocolate market.
Its products, easy to carry and filled with energy and calories, became a critical part of the war effort, packed into tens of millions of field rations and Red Cross care packages.
Hershey’s even produced tropical chocolate designed to survive in high-heat combat areas without melting.
Most U.S troops carried Hershey’s Chocolate of some kind on them.
Their ration bars became highly coveted symbols of American goodwill.
American GIs handed out chocolate bars by the millions to children and to other war-ravaged citizens as U.S. forces marched across Europe and Asia, liberating one town after another.
A black market for American chocolate developed in the aftermath of the war, most notably in Germany, as people struggled with deprivation.
Hersey continues to thrive today, reporting $8.97 billion in sales in 2021, an increase of more than 10 percent of 2020.
MIlton Hershey “had the genius to develop his chocolate business in the right place at the right time,” proclaims the Candy Hall of Fame.
“His personal convictions about the obligations of wealth and the quality of life in the town he founded have made the company, community and school a living legacy.”