Historical Markers
Hershey: Milton S. Hershey Historical Marker
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Hershey: Milton S. Hershey

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
Rte. 422 (on north side, near 19 E. Chocolate Ave.), Hershey

Dedication Date:
March 2, 2003

Behind the Marker

Milton S. Hershey, wearing suit;  3/4 length portrait.
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Milton S. Hershey, age thirty, 1887.
The Hershey bar and "kisses" are well-known to chocolate lovers all over the world. To make his trademarked products, Milton S. Hershey built the world's largest chocolate factory and a model industrial city for his workers to live in. Hershey was born in 1857 to Henry Hershey and Fanny Snavely, both of Pennsylvania German Mennonite heritage. While Fanny struggled to support the family on their modest farm, Henry pursued many get-rich-quick schemes. The couple eventually separated in 1872, and Fanny moved into Lancaster with her son, whom she hoped would prove more successful than her husband.

Young Hershey got a job at an ice cream parlor where he soon learned confectionary, business skills, and how to serve the public. In 1876, with the support of his mother and aunt, Hershey moved to Philadelphia to set up his own candy business. His lack of financial acumen and intense competition from other city candy makers brought his operation to a halt by 1880. Over the next six years he also failed in Chicago, Denver, and New York City.
Exterior of Lancaster Caramel Company with female employees in front of building and posing in windows.
Lancaster Caramel Company female employees, Lancaster, PA, circa 1899.

In 1886, a destitute twenty-nine-year-old Hershey started again in Lancaster, selling caramels in a pushcart. His break finally came when an English businessman sampled his wares and immediately contracted with Hershey to export them. Now with orders in hand and more coming every day, Hershey established the Lancaster Caramel Company.

By 1894, the entrepreneur who had never dreamed of mass marketing owned a million-dollar-per- year business. Impressed by a display of German machines at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, he decided that mass-produced milk chocolate was the future of candy. After having purchased these machines, he converted a section of his caramel plant to make chocolate. Six years later, Hershey sold his caramel factory for one million dollars and gambled his future on milk chocolate.
Six boys gather around a school truck at the Hershey Industrial School; unidentified building in background; Standing: Henry Stump, Sitting on fender: Fred Lasky, Sitting on fender with one foot on ground: Curtis Andrews, In truck: Carl Smith, Far right: Arthur Whiteman.
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Six boys gather around a school truck at the Hershey Industrial School, Hershey,...

In 1903, Hershey bought 1,200 acres of farmland near his birthplace in Dauphin County and built the largest chocolate factory in the world and a model factory town. His Hershey bar soon took the national market by storm. He did so without spending a dime on advertising.

To Hershey, printing his name in silver letters on brown candy bar wrappers was enough. Hershey's success came at a time when public opinion was decidedly against big business. Yet Hershey was not the stereotypical capitalist. Imbued with the progressive spirit of the era, he was convinced that the best way to prevent labor unrest and urban squalor was to be a benevolent employer. Hershey hired a Lancaster engineer named Henry N. Herr to design an attractive town. Instead of building a monotonous grid pattern, Herr favored curved, tree-lined streets. Trolley service connected the town to other communities in the area. In addition, Hershey built a large variety of amenities and businesses, many of which survive today, including a bank, golf courses, a swimming pool, and an amusement park.
Female employees at their work stations on Hershey Kiss wrapping machines.
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Female employees at their work stations on Hershey Kiss wrapping machines, Hershey,...

Hershey controlled every aspect of life in the town. Keeping his workers in line was relatively easy in a community in which he originally owned all the land and buildings. Tales of Hershey's beneficence are many. Workers in need usually found "M.S." willing to pay for an operation or buy a worker's children new coats. He was not afraid to spend money to improve workers" leisure and education.

Over the decades, the company subsidized schools, libraries, clubs, and sports teams. The most famous example of his philanthropy came in 1909, when he established the Hershey Industrial School (now the Milton Hershey School) for orphan boys. In 1918, he gave it controlling interest in the company.

The rapid growth and high company profits made the town a comfortable, if paternalistic, place to live and work. The Great Depression had only a muted effect on the community. Even in hard times Americans continued to consume millions of Hershey bars, which now cost less to produce because the cost of ingredients and labor had declined significantly. To offset local unemployment, Hershey initiated massive building projects hiring about six hundred workers. The results included the luxurious Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Theatre, and a sports arena and stadium, both located in the growing Hershey Park.

Milton S. Hershey and Industrial School students sitting on steps of Homestead; one boy sitting on his knee; formal portrait.
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Milton Hershey sitting with boys from the Hershey Industrial School, 1923.
However, even this relatively isolated community was caught up in the changes that were sweeping the nation. After the enactment of the Wagner Act in 1935, union organizing, especially by the aggressive Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), dramatically escalated. In April 1937 1,200 workers occupied the Hershey plant. A few days later a mob of dairy farmers, independent workers, and other citizens stormed the plant and ejected the strikers, markerleaving dozens injured. Following this episode, Hershey workers voted not to be represented by the CIO. Two years later, though, Hershey workers elected to be represented by the more conservative American Federation of Labor.

Long after its founder's death in 1945, the Hershey community continues to reflect its founder's ideals. The institutions he built - the factory, the amusement park, hotel, golf courses, and arena - all survive today. Most importantly, the company, although a public corporation since 1927, is still controlled by the local Hershey Trust, the agent for the Hershey Industrial School, to which Milton Hershey left the bulk of his fortune.
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