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Milton Hershey Built An Empire Making Chocolate, But His Famous Firm Now Funds A Surprising Cause

Milton Snavely Hershey

Milton Hershey is one of the most successful businessmen in history, and he came from very humble beginnings. He was born into a rural farming family in September 1857 in Derry Township. His descendants had moved to the United States from Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s. When Milton was 10-years-old, his mother, Veronica “Fanny” Hershey, separated from Milton’s father, Henry. Fanny was the daughter of a Mennonite clergyman, and over time, she realized that her attitude didn’t align with Henry’s. He didn’t have the same work ethic as his wife and could manage to hold a job. He had big dreams, and Fanny lost her patience after his big ideas kept failing. Finally, in 1867, she lost her patience, and Henry left. This left Milton’s mother to raise him alone.

Hard Work

Fanny taught Milton the importance of hard work at a very young age. This was a common trait of the Pennsylvania Dutch community, which they were a part of. While she believed in hard work, Fanny didn’t find schooling or reading to be necessary. Milton had very little education and didn’t make it past the fourth grade. He didn’t agree with his mother that education wasn’t important.

An Interest In Candy

Milton became interested in candy was he was just 14-years-old. Because of this, his mother helped him get an internship with confectioner, Joe Royer in Lancaster County. Royer made ice cream and candy. Thanks to Royer, Milton learned the fundamentals of making candy, and he found his true calling.

Opening a Candy Store

Milton had been learning the art of confectionery for four years when he got a loan from his aunt for $150 to open his own candy store in Philadelphia. Sadly, his store didn’t do well. He worked hard and borrowed more money from his uncle, Abraham Snavely. He brought his mother and his aunt Mattie to the city to help out. Then he printed fancy stationery and business cards to advertise the store, but none of this worked. He couldn’t make his candy store a success.

The Store Closed

No matter what Milton tried, he couldn’t earn enough money to pay for the supplies or to pay the debtors. Finally, he had to close the store. Since Milton still had candy in his blood, he moved to Denver to work with a confectioner who taught him to make caramel using fresh milk. Milton learned a lot, but he didn’t like the idea of working for someone else. He started his won business in Chicago and New Orleans. He opened another store in New York City in 1883, but it only stayed open for three years.

Returning Home

By 1886, Milton had no money, and he was forced to return home. He had to leave his belonging behind because he didn’t have the money to have them shipped over. When Milton went to his uncle’s farm, he was shunned by most of his relatives. They believed he was an irresponsible transient, and they didn’t want anything to do with him. Despite the shunning and his failures, Milton refused to give up. He started the Lancaster Caramel Company and started making caramel using fresh milk the same way he was taught in Denver. He created the recipe for Hershey’s Crystal A Cream Caramels, which were said to melt in the mouth.

A Success

Milton’s candy was a success, and he received a large order from an English confectionery firm. He knew that he didn’t have the money to fill the order, so he went to the Lancaster National Bank for a loan. The cashier at the bank was so dazzled by Milton, that he personally loaned him the money. When he got payment for the order, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The check was for £500, which would be $65,000 today. He was so excited that he ran out the door to the bank, and she was still wearing his apron that was spattered with caramel.

A Prominent Citizen

By 1894, Milton was considered one of Lancaster’s most prominent citizens. Gone were the days that he was considered to be an irresponsible transient. In 1900, he sold his company for $1 million, which is the equivalent of over $30 million today. Milton sold the company because he was sure that his future lay with chocolate, not caramel.


Seven years before Milton sold the company, he went to the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. There, he saw chocolate-making machinery from Germany. He thought it was great, and he purchased it. It made producing chocolate in Lancaster easy. He hoped to create a new formula that would allow him to produce and distribute his candy on a massive scale. He decided that Derry Township would be a great place to do this because there, he could get fresh milk, a reliable water source, and hard workers. In 1903, he started working on what would soon become the largest chocolate manufacturing company in the world. It took a few years to build the factory, and in 1907, he invented the Hershey’s Kiss.

Business Boomed

As Milton’s company became more successful, he had a vision for the area surrounding the factory. He used his fortune to develop the area and built a town called Hershey, Pennsylvania. He started by building houses for his employees, then built a school, a bank, churches, parks, and a zoo. Also, he even created a trolley system. During the Great Depression, he built a hotel, two theaters, an air-conditioned office building, and Hershey Sports Arena. These projects gave people work, and Milton made sure that nobody lost their jobs during this terrible economic time.

Milton Hershey School

The greatest gift that Milton gave to the town was the Milton Hershey School. It was founded in 1909, and he created it because he and his wife, Catherine, couldn’t have children. They wanted to help kids in need, and the school was designed for orphaned boys. Each child would train in a vocation, starting with woodworking, where the boys made their own beds and chests. They also learned religion and worked in the nearby dairy barns to teach them the importance of a strong work ethic.

Catherine’s Death

Catherine died in 1915 from an unknown illness. He carried her picture everywhere he went for the rest of his life. He continued working until he was 80-years-old, and today, his school is the wealthiest in all the world, with $12 billion in assets. Education was important to Milton, and he proved this through his school. Milton Hershey built an empire making chocolate, but his famous firm now funds a surprising cause. Education.

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