February 6, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Milton Hershey

The Hershey Chocolate Bar was once the most famous product in the world, maybe still is. Yet Hershey never advertised. "The best advertising," said Milton Hershey, "is the right kind of goods. People will learn about them and buy all you can make." And Milton Hershey had simply developed the most popular goods in the history of commerce.

Milton Snavely Hershey was born into a Mennonite family in central Pennsylvania in 1857. His mother estimated the family moved 37 times over the years and Milton attended seven different schools in eight years, never advancing past a fourth grade level. He got his first job as a printer's assistant but lost it when he dropped his hat into a press. It was the beginning of a long series of setbacks.

Hershey next found work as a confectioner's apprentice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and at age 19 he established his own shop in Philadelphia to take advantage of the bustling 1876 Centennial Exhibition trade. Making candy by night and selling it by day, without capital and battling strong competition, his health broke down and the enterprise failed.

He followed his father to Denver to join in a Silver Boom. Hershey arrived after most of the silver had been mined out but he did discover his fortune - while working in a candy shop he learned that fresh milk, if used properly, made the best candy he ever tasted.

Father and son tried selling fresh milk caramels in Chicago and failed. They tried selling caramels in New Orleans and failed. Why not try the biggest market of all? They decided to set up shop and sell caramels in New York City. They failed. Hershey's father remained in New York to try and peddle his paintings while Milton returned to Lancaster.

Milton's trail of failures had labeled him financially irresponsible within his family. He found himself a pariah among his relatives when he got home. But Hershey believed that opportunity knocks at least once on every man's door and he was darn sure he wanted to be making candy when it did. He borrowed some money from one of his still-civil aunts - just enough for a bag of sugar and a room on the wrong side of town. He made candy by night and peddled it by day from a basket.

His business picked up and he bought a pushcart. Pushcart rivalries were ferocious in Lancaster in 1887 and Hershey was actually stoned out of rival territory. But opportunity was looking up his address.

An English importer tasted Hershey's fresh milk caramels and placed a substantial order. His meager equipment could not possibly fill the order. He persuaded a local banker to visit his humble operation. The tiny room sandwiched between a carriage factory and a carpet beating establishment did not impress his prospective loan officer. But Hershey did. The banker personally endorsed a note to finance equipment and hire candy-makers. Hershey caramels became so popular that by 1900 the 43-year old candy-maker was able to sell his business for $1,000,000.

With his money Hershey and his wife began a trip around the world. They made it as far as Mexico City when Hershey leaped out of his chair on the hotel porch and announced: "I can't stand this; I've got to get back to work."

Hershey had been dabbling with chocolate since 1893 when the confection started to gain some favor and he thought it might flavor his caramels. He now planned to stake his future on chocolate, specifically the mass production of a new milk chocolate bar.

Hershey decided to erect a great chocolate factory, not near the centers of industry, as was common at the time, but out in the country. He chose Derry Church, Pennsylvania near the site of his birth. It was not sentiment but calculated logic which brought Hershey home. The good dairy country provided the best environment for manufacturing milk chocolate. The streams were clear and the Pennsylvania Dutch people supplied an intelligent, hard-working labor pool.

The chocolate factory opened in 1904 and the first 5¢ milk chocolate bar was ready in 1905, as well as an almond bar. The world fell for milk chocolate like nothing else ever. The business succeeded beyond Hershey's dreams, anyone's dreams.

A model town of 4000, named Hershey, sprung up around the factory. When the Depression hit many years later Milton Hershey made certain no one in his town was unemployed and instituted a vast building program. When labor unions tried to organize Hershey workers in 1937 with a sit-down strike they were routed by local farmers and citizens. The CIO union was rejected by a vote of 2-1.

Hershey used little of his wealth personally. He would never have a telephone in his home or office. He never even owned his home, having given it away to his employees for a country club. His wife died in 1915 and Hershey had no heirs. Thus he endowed the Milton Hershey Industrial School with a trust fund of $60,000,000 for "the orphan boys of America" and the rest of his money went to the Milton S. Hershey Foundation.

Hershey continued as chairman of the board of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation until he was 87, one year before his death. Just prior to his resignation Hershey received the Army-Navy "E" production award for creating ration "D", familiar to all service men as the "iron ration". The Hershey bar was now a world currency.


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