I am a sucker for the underdog and stories of overcoming hardship and adversity. The success that follows Winston Churchill’s, “never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense”. And while I am quoting Winston Churchill I just found this one and need to share with you dear readers, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And another Churchill, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” We all know the stories and characters – Abe Lincoln and Michael Jordan, Harriet Tubman and J.K. Rowling. We all know the formula – the resolve and conviction to carry out their life’s mission despite sometimes insurmountable adversity and facing failure after failure after failure. Nestled within the picturesque rural town of Hershey, PA is another success story in every possible way. It is the story of Milton Hershey.
Milton Hershey was born on September 13, 1857. He grew up on a family farm in Pennsylvania and received nominal education but learned hard work and perseverance. After leaving school he worked for a Printer as an apprentice and was fired for dropping his straw hat in the printing press. His next job was an Apprentice for a candy maker. In 1876 after putting in his time, he borrowed $150 from his Aunt to start his own company in Philadelphia. For six years he worked to grow his business but it ultimately failed. He sold the company and headed to Denver where he worked for a confectioner and learned how to make caramel using cow’s milk. Still feeling the drive to start his own business Hershey tried again in Chicago and later New York, both times meeting failure. With resolve and grit, Hershey returned to PA to use the skills he had acquired and started the Lancaster Caramel Company. When he arrived home in Pennsylvania, he didn’t have enough funds to have his possessions shipped after him. After a loan from a friend, and the bank, he was able to get his operation off the ground and finally found great success shipping caramels across the US and employing 1,400 people.
In 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago Hershey purchased German machinery with a new vision and goal – to bring chocolate, which was considered a delicacy and too expensive for most Americans, to the masses. Few knew how to make milk chocolate as the recipe was closely guarded by the Swiss. Hershey’s new dream was to mass produce and mass distribute milk chocolate. In 1900 he sold his caramel business for a cool 1 million dollars (in 1900!). Hershey was looking for a new facility and found one in Derry, PA, close to his birthplace with access to a plethora of cows. After much testing and trial he created a milk chocolate recipe and in 1905 opened a modern candy making facility. The great American Hershey bar followed. He created the Hershey kiss in 1907, a candy he invented himself.
Hershey was a philanthropist whose extreme generosity lives on in the legacy of his trust and the thousands of people whose lives it has changed. In Hershey, PA Milton built schools and churches, houses and even a trolley system for his employees. He and his wife Catherine, unable to have children of their own, turned their sorrows into a school for orphaned boys known as the Hershey Industrial School which was founded in 1909. When Catherine died in 1918 he transferred the majority of his wealth, including ownership of the Hershey Chocolate Company, to the Hershey Trust. During the Great Depression, Hershey kept the town employed and on it’s feet by the building of a hotel, corporate offices and a new community building. During World War II he supplied the troops with chocolate bars known as Ration D bars. Despite his great success, Hershey lived a quiet life in a home considered modest for his means.
Hershey worked well into his 80′s and died October 13, 1945 in Hershey, PA. His legacy, the Hershey Company includes Recees, Twizzlers, Almond Joy, York Peppermint Patty and the list goes on. It is said that Hershey was most proud of his school. This lasting legacy lives and breathes with every child who attends. Today the Milton Hershey School is co-ed and has over 1,800 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It provides children in economic and social hardship with education, housing, emotional stability and opportunities they would never have otherwise. Every story has a sad and often tragic beginning and thousands of happy endings. Every cost is provided for – medical and dental care, education, clothing, food, housing, everything. The students live with host parents in familial type environments with other children. The campus is extensive and beautiful and resembles a university or prestigious boarding school. The house families provide nurturing and structure and teach essential life skills. Hershey wanted the children to learn to be good citizens, with strong morals and a diligent work ethic. Students attend weekly chapel services and thrive with the opportunities provided by the school. Students who graduate from Hershey leave with accreditations and most go on to college which is also provided by the Hershey Trust. Such generosity, and how it has changed so many lives is overwhelming.
It is estimated that 8,000 children have graduated from the Hershey School and experienced the great kindness and generosity of a man whose willingness to help changed so many lives. “I have no heirs, that is, no children, so I decided to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs”. The vision and compassion of such a man is a lasting legacy that lives on today in the town of Hershey, the success of the company and most importantly in the lives of all the children he helped.
Written by Marykate O’Malley, mother of three wonderful children, Gladwyne PA