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For one of history’s most successful businessmen, Milton Snavely Hershey came from pretty humble beginnings. But at the turn of the 20th century, the Pennsylvania native built the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing company and used the latest mass production techniques. Not only did Hershey help bring the candy to a wider market, he also put his wealth where he believed it was needed. Through that, he improved conditions for his employees and used his philanthropic endeavors to better people’s lives.

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Hershey was born into a rural farming family in September 1857 in Derry Township, and was a descendant of immigrants who had moved to the U.S. from Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s. His mother, Veronica “Fanny” Hershey, became a single parent by the time the future entrepreneur was ten years old, after she became separated from her husband Henry.

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Fanny taught Hershey the importance of working hard from a young age, a characteristic apparently common among the “Pennsylvania Dutch” community of which they were a part. She is believed to have been the daughter of a Mennonite clergyman and, over time, it became clear her attitudes didn’t align with her husband’s.

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Henry, for his part, apparently didn’t have the same work ethic as his wife and struggled to hold onto jobs, though he always had big dreams. Regardless, he and Fanny later separated after she lost patience with his alleged failures, and he had left the family by 1867.

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Fanny clearly believed in hard work but, interestingly, not necessarily in schooling or even reading. Hershey had very little formal education and hadn’t studied beyond the fourth grade. However, his emphasis on the benefits of a good education in later life would indicate that he disagreed with his mother’s opinions on schooling.

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Hershey’s interest in candy began when he was 14, after Fanny found him an internship with confectioner Joe Royer in Lancaster County, where the family had moved. Royer made candy and ice cream, and it was here that not only did Hershey learn the fundamentals of producing delicious treats, he also found his calling.

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After four years of learning the art of making confectionery, Hershey then secured a loan of $150 from his aunt to open his own candy store in Philadelphia. Thus began a period of the young man’s career which may surprise people who only know of his eventual success.

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You see, Hershey would go on to experience failure with many of his initial businesses. He poured everything he had into the candy shop in Philadelphia, even borrowing money from his uncle Abraham Snavely and bringing his mother and aunt Mattie out to the city to help him. He even printed fancy business cards and stationery to advertise the shop; but it was to no avail.

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Sadly, Hershey was never able to generate enough money to pay his suppliers or debtors, and he was forced to close the business. Undeterred, however, he next went out to Denver and worked with a confectioner who taught him how to use fresh milk to make caramel.

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Caramel would prove to be key to Hershey’s success in the future but, at this point, he was still floundering. His entrepreneurial spirit wouldn’t allow him to work for someone else for too long, so he struck out on his own again in both Chicago and New Orleans. Hershey then opened his second business in New York City in 1883, but it only lasted for three years.

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By 1886 Hershey had no money and was forced to return home; though he didn’t even have the money to have his possessions shipped over. And according to the Milton Hershey School website, when he went to visit his uncle’s farm he was shunned by most of his relatives who now believed he was irresponsible and transient.

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Once again, however, these failures did nothing to prevent Hershey’s steadfast belief that he would be a success in the candy business. He started the Lancaster Caramel Company and began experimenting with caramel using fresh milk – like he had learned in Denver. And this yielded the recipe for “Hershey’s Crystal A Cream Caramels” – a candy that melted in the mouth.

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Hershey soon received a large order from an English confectionery firm and knew he had to go to the Lancaster National Bank for a loan in order to fulfil it. And the cashier there was so dazzled by Hershey that he personally loaned him the money.

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In Michael D’Antonio’s book Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams, he quotes the entrepreneur’s friend John McLain. The latter, for his part, recounted the moment his pal received a £500 check from the company, which is around $65,000 today. Apparently, Hershey said, “When I opened the mail and saw that, I just went round in circles. The first thing I did was reach for my coat and hat and I started down the street [to the bank], and was gone some blocks before I realized I had on my spattered caramel apron.”

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Hershey’s fortunes then changed so drastically that by 1894 he was considered one of Lancaster’s most prominent citizens. Then, in 1900 he sold the Lancaster Caramel Company for an astonishing $1 million, which is the equivalent of over $30 million today. By this point, Hershey had become convinced that his future lay with chocolate, rather than caramel.

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Seven years previously, in 1893, Hershey had visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and become enamoured with some chocolate-making machinery from Germany. As a result, he purchased it and began producing his own chocolate in Lancaster.

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Hershey wanted to find a new formula for chocolate making that would enable him to produce and distribute it on a massive scale. To do this, he needed a factory, and the search for this led him back home to Derry Township. He knew the central Pennsylvania countryside of his youth could give him fresh milk, a reliable water supply and good workers. So in 1903 he got to work on constructing what would become the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing company.

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The factory, for its part, took two years to build and was opened in 1905. Hershey was personally involved in the creation of the chocolate, and he worked alongside a select few colleagues over long days and nights until the best blend of ingredients was found. According to the Hershey Community Archives, employee Bert Black, who began working for the entrepreneur in 1899, recalled, “Nobody told Mr. Hershey how to make milk chocolate. He just found out the hard way.”

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And Hershey was a true innovator; much of the equipment needed for mass production was either adapted or produced in his factory – mostly through trial and error. Initially making a variety of confectionery, he eventually began focusing on the production of the Hershey chocolate bar – along with other chocolate and cocoa coatings.

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The entrepreneur is largely believed to have created the iconic bite sized candies known as “Hershey’s Kisses” in 1907 – an example of the imaginative ideas he dreamed up for his candies. According to the Milton Hershey School, he always committed 100 percent to something once a decision had been made. Furthermore, he had a knack for finding capable assistants and securing their devotion.

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As his chocolate business boomed, Hershey’s vision for the area surrounding the factory expanded. He also he used his fortune to develop the area surrounding his factory into a community. In fact, he built a town that would come to be known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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Hershey’s factory sat amid farmland, rather than an urban area, so he knew he’d have to build homes for at some of his workers to live. And these houses were soon followed by other amenities: including a school, bank, churches, parks and even a zoo.

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And Hershey had another interesting innovation for his town: a trolley system. In 1903 he launched the Hummelstown & Campbelltown Street Railway Company, which allowed workers to travel to work in Hershey from nearby locations. The train network, which steadily expanded over the years, also brought milk to the town. The line also meant that its residents could visit and shop in neighboring areas.

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In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Hershey then oversaw a second development boom in the town. He ordered the construction of a hotel, two theaters, an air-conditioned office building and the Hershey Sports Arena. Clearly, these projects kept people working, and according to the Milton Hershey School, the entrepreneur boasted at the time that no one lost their jobs during the economic woes of the period.

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Perhaps Hershey’s most enduring gift to his town was the now-named Milton Hershey School. It was founded in 1909 and, according to the institution, was the result of Hershey and his wife Catherine being unable to conceive a child. Apparently, they’d wanted to help children in need, and so the couple created the school for orphaned boys.

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The Milton Hershey School added on its website that the entrepreneur had remembered his own difficult childhood and he had wanted to offer kids better opportunities. The institution’s Deed of Trust said at the time, “Due regard shall be paid to [the children’s] health; their physical training shall be attended to, and they shall have suitable and proper exercise and recreation. They shall be instructed in the several branches of a sound education…”

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Hershey had three guiding principles for the students at his school. One was that each child would train in a vocation; this program started with woodworking and the boy’s made their own beds and chests. The second principle was that students would learn about religion, while the third was that pupils would partake in chores – such as working in the nearby dairy barns.

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Interestingly, though Hershey insisted that the children learn about God and often held Sunday schools at his house, he himself wasn’t particularly religious. Indeed, when once asked about his faith, he responded that he followed the “Golden Rule” – which is to treat others as you would expect to be treated yourself.

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Sadly, Hershey’s wife Catherine died in 1915 due to an unknown illness. Three years later the businessman then donated his vast fortune to the school – including his ownership stake in the Hershey Chocolate Company. However, he continued to be heavily involved in the institution’s operations until his death in 1945.

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Hershey never remarried after losing his wife, and, according to Biography.com, apparently carried a picture of her with him wherever he went. He also stayed employed well into his eighth decade of life – likely carrying on the zest for work his mother taught him from an early age.

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Hershey’s company even supplied chocolate to U.S. forces fighting in World War II. The pieces of confectionery were known as the Tropical Chocolate Bar and Ration D Bar. And the latter candy had some pretty strange requirements from the military; it had to taste bad enough to prevent troops from getting too much of an appetite for it.

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The Tropical Chocolate Bar, meanwhile, was formulated to avoid melting in hot tropical weather conditions. And this time, Hershey was allowed to make the candy taste slightly better. Amazingly, by the end of the war, his plant was producing a staggering 24 million bars per week.

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Of course, Hershey’s legacy as a philanthropist and businessman endures even today. As most us know, the Hershey Company is one of the largest manufacturers of confectionery in the world and it produces beloved brands like Almond Joy, Cadbury, Reese’s, Twizzlers and Mounds.

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Elsewhere, the Milton Hershey School now provides education for over 2,000 students every single year. It has over $12 billion in assets and is one of the wealthiest schools in the world. The institution has also evolved from its early days serving male orphans and now serves a student body of diverse genders and races.

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Each student’s tuition is free and they are admitted based on a variety of criteria – with the pupil’s social need taken into account. Boarding students at the school live in small groups in on-campus living facilities, under the watchful eye of so-called “houseparent” teams.

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The houseparents, for their part, look after the students and maintain the religious principles which underpin the school’s ethos. The campus, meanwhile, sits on 2,640 acres and includes a library, athletic fields, communal space and student housing. There is also a modern visual and performing arts space which features video production facilities.

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Furthermore, the school has produced some famous graduates too. These include NFL players Garry Gilliam, former Major League baseball pitcher Nellie King, White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Trymaine Lee.

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In the end, Milton Hershey never truly conformed to the world’s idea of a wealthy man. He was shy and rarely read or wrote, though as we explored earlier, he aimed to ensure that others enjoyed a good quality education.

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And Hershey wasn’t ostentatious in how he showed off wealth. Biography.com added that, “His house and the community he’d helped create meant everything to him. When it came to building his own home, he made sure the Hershey Company headquarters was part of the view.”

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The businessman’s philosophy can be summed up in one fitting quote, which he gave to the Milton Hershey School’s publication the School Industrialist in 1934. He said, “Men of wealth should, while they are still alive, give of their money for the betterment of their fellows, for they cannot take their wealth with them when they cease to exist here.”

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