"I think if you study – if you learn too much of what others have done, you may tend to take the same direction as everybody else" – Milton Hershey.
Milton Snavely Hershey was quite possibly the ultimate philanthropist. Born to humble means in rural central Pennsylvania in 1857, Hershey enjoyed just a spotty education and was to drop out of school after reaching only the fourth grade. His early forays into entrepreneurship were destined for failure, but he was to go on to become one of the nation’s foremost industrialists.
During his early years, Hershey served a lengthy apprenticeship with a prominent candy maker in the city of Lancaster and felt that he could establish his own candy making business in the big city. His initial effort in Philadelphia failed, as did other attempts in Chicago and New York City. Despite the efforts of his mother’s family to help him finance these ventures, Hershey was virtually bankrupt by the age of 30.
Nevertheless his experience was to prove valuable as, upon return to Pennsylvania in 1890, he opened a caramel business that was to finally "work." Indeed the Lancaster Caramel Company began to ship products all over the country as well as internationally and eventually employed more than 1400 staff. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the entrepreneur became intrigued with the art of chocolate making, previously a European art and particularly the realm of the secretive Swiss. Shortly thereafter he began producing chocolate coatings for his products using some German machinery, but realized that his future lay in the production of the chocolate itself.
The Hershey Chocolate Company was born in 1894 and Milton set out to try and devise the perfect recipe for making milk chocolate. This was definitely a process of trial and error, but ultimately he mixed in just the right formula of cocoa, sugar and milk to come up with something not only palatable, but very popular as well. As soon as he had perfected his recipe he sold the caramel company to focus entirely on the process of making chocolate.
By this stage a highly competent and efficient businessman, Hershey realized that he needed to find a suitable place for what would prove to be a significant expansion. He needed to find a location that was convenient from an import and distribution perspective, with great access to the primary raw material produced by dairy farmers and with good access to a hard-working population. This was to prove the core of his philanthropy as the initial community that he founded in Derry Township eventually grew and was renamed in his honor as the town of Hershey.
Hershey’s vision included the rights and well-being of his workers and their families. He went out of his way to provide an environment that was both pleasant for them and conducive to hard work. He reasoned that those who were treated fairly and who lived in pleasant conditions were likely to be loyal and productive and he was right. With all amenities, churches, schools, parks, transportation and recreation, the town itself was to focus on its people, his workers and not on his giant industrial production facility.
Hershey was also completely committed to providing good educational opportunities for those who, just as in his early days, might otherwise have had poor options. The Hershey Industrial School was founded in 1909 for orphaned boys and to this day remains a highly regarded establishment for boys and girls alike. "The main object in view is to train young men to useful trades and occupations, so that they can earn their own livelihood."
Hershey’s greatest philanthropic act was made with very little fanfare in 1918 when he transferred ownership in the burgeoning Hershey Chocolate Company to the Hershey Trust, to benefit his educational endeavors. Further, in 1935 he established another foundation to provide educational and cultural chances for residents of the town and to support the museum, theater and gardens. A teaching hospital in the town also benefited from his gifts.
Milton Hershey was to pass away in 1945, but his creation remains one of the world’s most sought after treats. The chocolate company stands proudly in a city that is now a significant tourist attraction in its own right and his legacy is exceptional. As the man himself once said, "one is only happy in proportion as he makes others feel happy and only useful as he contributes his influences for the finer callings in life."