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Milton Hershey

His Legacy is Much More than the Hershey Bar!

by Michael H. Thomson
November 16, 2005

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Milton Hershey
It seems everybody in northern Virginia, southern Maryland, and eastern West Virginia is moving to Paeonian Springs. At least that's the case judging from the construction in this area. Hillsides are covered with McMansions and the traffic clog is more of a regular occurrence than rare. Even with all that, I'm glad we moved here. You see, I'm a day traveler. I like to take trips where you can go and get back home within a day.
For example, Paeonian Springs is an hour and a half from the battlefield at Gettysburg, and an hour from George Washington's plantation at Mount Vernon. Stretching the time a little beyond a day trip, it's a four and a half hour trek to New York City and less than that to Atlantic City. Even intellectually knowing the distances and the times to various places close to here, it is still amazes me to find myself at my destination of choice in less than three hours.
When I lived in Florida it took five hours just to leave the state.  In Alabama it was an hour just to reach a decent mall and Texas was the worst ever in that a person could easily develop a mindset that six hours was a short trip! So you can imagine my surprise when my wife and I set out for Lancaster, Pennsylvania late in the morning and arrived there with three hours of daylight remaining.  In fact we saw all we wanted to see in Lancaster, stuffed ourselves on wholesome Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine at the Good ‘N' Plenty Restaurant  and were still in a traveling mood as the sun dipped below the horizon. We could have still reached home in time to watch a good movie on pay-for-view, that is until Liz noticed on the map that we were less than an hour from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
This requires some explanation. Liz is a chocoholic, so mentioning the name "Hershey" to her is like saying "Jack Daniels" to a booze addict. There would be no pay-for view movie for me that evening. Finding a quality inexpensive motel was not difficult and after a good night's rest, we were ready to see if Hershey was as delicious as it sounds.
Little did I know that we in for a traveling treat as good as anything at Disney –which we have visited quite often. We visited Hershey Park and Zoo, The Hershey Museum, and rode the trolley which took us to places of interest around the city. It was on the trolley that our conductor told us the condensed version of the life of industrialist and philanthropist, Milton Hershey. If you've never heard the story, it's worth repeating on the pages of The Partial Observer. 
Milton Hershey was born on a small farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country into a family which had a strong Mennonite heritage of rock-solid values and a better than average work ethic. His parents, particularly his father wanted the best for young Milton and sought the best education as could be afforded at the time. The time was the period before and after the Civil War and the education consisted of entrepreneurial teachers in one room school houses. Milton attended seven schools of this type until – much to his father's disappointment – he threw in the towel and opted to go into a trade apprenticeship. This was before he was fifteen. By today's standards, Hershey would be considered a school drop-out.
He first tried his hand at working for a printing press, but conflict with the proprietor and probably sheer boredom caused him to leave that endeavor.  His next pursuit was to become an apprentice for a candy maker. This was the right fit. Over the years Milton learned to make candy but unfortunately had trouble grasping the concept of making money doing it. His doting parents and an aunt did their best at trying to help him succeed.  He failed many times and lived in near poverty while pursuing his dream of becoming a successful candy maker. Perseverance and some fortunate breaks changed the fortunes of Milton Hershey.
His biggest break came when a British firm gave him a large order for caramels which he made in Lancaster. Unfortunately at the time of the order, he had notes due at the bank. In a brash move Milton Hershey convinced his banker to become an investor in the company and give Milton a loan that would guarantee that the British order was filled. That was the beginning of Milton Hershey's success story and the end of a chain of failures.
Later, Milton sold his company in Lancaster for a million dollars – about the cost of one the McMansions in Paeonian Springs – big money in 1903, and took a long European cruise with his wife. On the cruise he thought…and thought…and thought some more…about chocolate. When he arrived back in Pennsylvania he had a plan and a novel concept. He would build a town around a chocolate factory – and that is what he did.  He built the town of Hershey from scratch. Unique houses and buildings that do not bore the esthetic whims of the observer are characteristic of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Milton Hershey went the extra mile in assuring his employees – those people who made him successful -  had the best living conditions possible for the time. He built parks, stores, hospitals, schools, and churches.
Chocolate candy, once a treat for the privileged, became a staple for the common man. Milton Hershey made it so and became fabulously wealthy. Does this sound familiar? Maybe so, but here is difference between Milton Hershey and many industrialists of the time, Milton gave all of his money away. Milton and his wife had another dream bigger than chocolate: educating underprivileged children. You see Milton and his wife, Catherine, were childless. In 1918, three years after the death of his wife, Milton endowed a school he and his wife had founded for underprivileged boys with his entire fortune of Hershey Chocolate Company Stock. Later the school would become coeducational and exists today as the largest k-12 boarding school in the United States educating boys and girls from broken homes, children of prisoners, and orphaned children.
The school – through the Hershey Trust – owns 31.4 percent of Hershey Food's common stock and controls 76 percent of the voting shares thereby making the school a direct recipient of the success of Hershey Foods.
Just so you don't feel guilty when you munch on a Hershey bar or a Reese's cup, remember a good percentage of the profit made in the sale to you goes back to a school which educates underprivileged children. Because of past financial success at Hershey Foods, the Milton S. Hershey School endowment recently topped 4.6 billion dollars which is larger than the endowments to Stanford, MIT, Columbia, or the University of Chicago.
On campus – and that's how you start thinking of Hershey, Pennsylvania – is – as Ross Perot would say – a world class medical facility consisting of a teaching hospital, medical school, and research facility that came about due to a gift by the Milton S. Hershey Foundation to Pennsylvania State University to build such a facility. The generosity of Milton Hershey lives on.
To learn more about Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the legacy of Milton S. Hershey you might wish to visit the following website: Hershey Pennsylvania. Go to the website and look around. There is much more about Hershey than you will find in this abbreviated article. If you wish to be uplifted, I would suggest to you a further step: Go visit! Don't forget to take the kids…

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Rich from IA writes:
November 16, 2005

I am a direct benefactor of Hershey's generosity. My father was educated there and passed on the story many times about Mr. H. Thanks for a good reminder of dad and another lesson.


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