If you have ever eaten and enjoyed a delicious Hershey milk chocolate bar, you may not know, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, "The Rest of The Story." Over the years I certainly haven eaten my share of these delicious chocolate bars, including the Hershey Kiss, but I did not know the amazing story of Milton S. Hershey, the founder of these products.
Thanks to my good friends Dr. Bill and Jonnie Bounds, who made a stop on a recent tour in the community where the factory is located and brought me some literature, I know more now than I did, and I am honored to pass it along.
Before I share a small portion of his story, I would like to offer this observation. If you will do some research on the truly successful people in our nation, past and present, you will find they failed many times before they succeeded. Such was the case for Milton S. Hershey (1857-1945). He made his fortune through dogged persistence and the courage to pursue a dream. Though he was modest and unassuming in appearance — not the sort you would pick out of a crowd -- he was a shrewd and determined businessman. He had a genius for timing and an instinctive ability to choose loyal and able people to help him. This is crucial.
Mr. Hershey was born shortly before the American Civil War on a farm in central Pennsylvania. He had little formal schooling. He attended several schools, as his family moved from their original home in Lancaster County, but his mother did not seem to emphasize learning. This was because she felt books were her husband’s downfall, and she did not want books to ruin her son. Although Hershey became successful without the benefit of a good education, the fact is that later on he insisted the boys in the school he founded would have a "sound" education. This left the impression that he felt the lack of it himself.
At first it seemed that Milton had no more talent for business than his father. He failed in numerous ventures before he finally succeed in making caramel candy. By then he was almost 40 years old. Later he would learn that the secret to making really good candy was a source of good milk, and the Pennsylvania countryside provided dairy products that would fill the bill. The success of his caramel business enabled Mr. Hershey, for the first time in his life, to spend money for his own pleasure. In 1898, Milton Hershey, now over 40, astounded everyone by marrying Catherine Sweeney, a beautiful Irish Catholic girl from New York State. They made a great team and she brought culture into their marriage that would bring much happiness to him.
Caramels gave Mr. Hershey his first million, but chocolate would later give him his fortune. His first taste of it came on a visit to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he became fascinated by a set of German chocolate-making machinery. He bought the equipment and had it installed in Lancaster, where he began producing his own chocolate –114 varieties in all. The rest is history. He would later purchase a large block of Central Pennsylvania countryside, where he founded the town of Hershey, and would provide everything he needed for a factory: a plentiful water supply, fresh milk, and hard workers.
What I have just shared is how the Hershey name became synonymous with the best chocolate on the planet but that is only part of the story. He also founded the Milton Hershey School, where today more than 1,800 boys and girls K-12 who qualify, receive a free quality education. For more information, call 1-800-322-3248.
(Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)