Milton Snavely Hershey was born 13 September, 1857, to a Pennsylvania German family in a fieldstone home built by his great-grandfather in Derry Township, Pennsylvania, USA. Like many farm boys, he performed a variety of chores and attended one-room schoolhouses in the area, including the Derry Church School.
By the time he was 14, he proved to be a failure of a student and his father signed him on as an apprentice in Lancaster County with a German language newspaper. He was fired from that job when his hat fell into the printing press. Shortly after that incident he signed on as an apprentice confectioner in the candy factory of Joseph H. Royer in Lancaster.
Four years later, he went into business for himself as a candy maker in Philadelphia. The business was going well until a run-away horse lost a shipment and ruined him. Faced with too many bills and not enough sales, he sold the business in 1882. His next stop was Denver, Colorado, where he learned to make caramels.
He then returned to the candy business in New York City, where he was joined by his mother Fanny, and his aunt. Ironically, another run away horse helped to drive him out of business and his family returned to Lancaster. In Lancaster, his caramel business started to take off with sales to an English importer. By 1894, his company was selling its products to all corners of the globe.
But a year earlier, Hershey had seen the future at the 1893 Worlds Colombian Exposition in Chicago when he met with the manufacturers of German chocolate-making machines. He bought one and shipped it to Lancaster where he began experimenting with chocolate production.
He sold his caramel business to his chief rival for $1 million, enabling him to plan a new factory dedicated to the production of chocolate. Hershey decided to locate his factory near the place where he was born among the cornfields of Derry Township. However, instead of producing a lot of different products, this time Hershey focused on one thing - chocolate.
Ground was broken for the factory on March 2, 1903. And as the factory was being built, Hershey worked in the barn at the old family homestead, experimenting until he found the perfect tasting chocolate that would be the cornerstone of the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Not only did he build a factory, he planned and built the small town around it. Many of the hand-lettered deeds for the houses surrounding the factory were sold by Hershey himself to his workers. On the deeds, he specified exactly what sort of buildings could be constructed. Forbidden on the sites were taverns, piggeries, glue, soap, candle and lamp-black factories. Streets sprang up with names echoing the countries growing cocoa beans: Trinidad, Caracas, Areba, Ceylon and Para. The main streets in town were named Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Avenue.
But in addition to homes, Hershey founded many of the town’s facilities - the electric company, fire department, sewerage and water systems, telephone concern, and several churches. In addition, he built a drug store, creamery, inn and department store. Taking care of the leisure of his employees, he built a park, a museum, a zoo and an ice skating rink.
He and his wife Catherine both shared a love of children, but sometime early in their marriage, they realized that they could not have children of their own. Catherine often expressed an interest in providing a haven for those in need of a good home and a better chance in life. To that end, they established a trust fund in 1909 to found a school for orphans. Sadly, Catherine died in 1915 and never lived to see the school grow to its current stature.
During the Great Depression, Hershey’s town did not suffer from mass unemployment like much of the rest of the world. Hershey launched a great building drive to provide jobs for his community. During this time, the Hotel Hershey, schools and the sports arena were constructed.
Hershey died shortly after the end of World War II at the age of 88. By the time he joined his wife in rest, he had given away almost all of his fortune and lived in a small apartment of rooms in his mansion, which he had donated to his golf club for use as a clubhouse. He is buried in Hershey Cemetery next to his wife and parents.
Even in death, his legacy can still be found all through the community which bears his name, just as the chocolate which bears his name can be found in all corners of the globe.