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Milton Hershey: A sweet life born of adversity
Most people have heard of Hershey, Pennsylvania. But not everyone knows it’s the home of the legendary “Hershey bar”. And even fewer know the amazing true story of how Milton Hershey armed with only a 4th grade education, and the determination to make his dreams come true, turned a candy bar into one of America’s most inspiring success stories.
Hershey, PA, and its world-famous chocolate, symbolize the man who created the candy bar and built the town that took his name. In so doing, Milton S. Hershey not only fulfilled his personal dreams for success, he created a legacy of service to employees and townspeople that has rarely been matched anywhere in America, by any of the great pioneers of business and industry.
Milton Snavely Hershey was born on September 13, 1857, to Veronica “Fanny” Snavely and Henry Hershey on the family homestead in the mostly rural township of Derry Church, PA. Milton Hershey’s only sibling, Serena, was born in 1862, but died at age 4 of scarlet fever.
The young family’s early years were somewhat unstable. Hershey’s father was forever starting one “get rich scheme” after another, and they inevitably failed. The family moved around so much to accommodate Henry’s whims that young Milton had attended seven different schools, and only completed the 4th grade, by the time he was 12 years old. At the behest of his father, Hershey dropped out of school for good, and became a printer’s apprentice in Lancaster, PA, where the family was then living.
Hershey was not a good fit for the printing business, as it turned out, and after he purposely let his hat fall into a printing press, he got his wish and was terminated. Fortunately for chocolate and candy lovers everywhere, his next job was apprentice to a candy maker. This was the sea-change experience, which became the wellspring of a quintessential American rags-to-riches story.
After his four-year apprenticeship, Hershey had great hopes for his future. He had staunch supporters in his mother and her sister, Aunt Mattie. At their urging, his two Snavely uncles (his mother’s brothers) agreed to put up some investment money, and Milton was able to set up his first candy business, in Philadelphia.
But the trip from teenage candy apprentice to globe-trotting billionaire chocolate baron wasn’t an easy trail of luxury bon-bons. After several years of struggle, the Philadelphia adventure ended in abject failure. The uncles refused more backing, and Hershey returned to Lancaster, bankrupt and deeply disappointed.
Before long, Hershey decided to join his father on one of his get-rich schemes. This was silver prospecting out of Denver, Colorado. By the time Milton arrived in Denver, his father had missed the silver rush and was jobless, with no decent prospects.
Hershey found work with a local Denver candy maker, and learned from him a secret of great caramel candy – adding fresh milk to the recipe. This was another harbinger of good things to come. But again, it would take some more hard times.
Inspired by the caramel milk secret, and with more money begged and borrowed from family, Hershey opened his second business, a candy store on Sixth Avenue in New York City. He was making and selling his fantastic caramels and other goodies, but again, the lack of deep financing led to another business collapse. Now 29, Hershey was forced to return to his family home in Lancaster, shunned by the Snavely uncles, and seen as a younger version of his father – financially irresponsible and an impractical dreamer.
By now, Hershey had recruited a business partner and friend named William Henry Lebkicher, who believed in Hershey’s confection dream and remained a lifelong ally. With William’s help, and yet another loan from Aunt Mattie, Milton was able to obtain the equipment and supplies he needed for a small caramel-making business right there in Lancaster. Hershey made candies all day, and then sold them from a pushcart in the streets in the evenings.
An English candy merchant and importer passed through Lancaster, and was impressed with the fresh taste and quality of Hershey’s caramels, and placed a large order for Hershey’s caramels. Realizing this could be the decisive moment for which he’d been working so hard, and so long, the indefatigable Hershey wangled a bank loan based on the order, and delivered the candies as promised.
Hershey made enough money to pay off the bank loan and launch an expanded candy and chocolate business. The Lancaster Caramel Company was incorporated in 1894. Hershey also produced baking chocolate, cocoa and sweet chocolate to coat his caramels, and sold chocolate products under the name of the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Hershey was right; that English order had been the turning point. From then on, Hershey’s business never faltered or failed through two World Wars and the Great Depression, and on to the present day. Almost overnight, Hershey became a millionaire, one of Lancaster’s most successful businessmen, and a civic leader, all before he turned 35.
Hershey bought a mansion in Lancaster, lavishly furnished it, and was welcomed into the social life of the rich and famous. He traveled the world visiting confectionery makers and expanding his knowledge of manufacturing and marketing.
By the mid-1890s, he had bought and refurbished the family’s original homestead in Derry Church, which he gave to his father. And in May of 1898, Hershey married Catherine “Kitty” Sweeney. She was a marvelous influence on his life, and the two remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. Tragically, Kitty died in 1915, and Hershey never remarried.
Hershey was one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who believed that better living conditions for workers resulted in better workers and productivity. Shortly after the turn of the century, Hershey decided to build a factory in Derry Church.
It also included a new model town, a community that supported and nurtured his workers with homes, schools, churches, theatres, parks, golf course and ample shopping – all the amenities that came to symbolize the ideal American life. It is said that Hershey took pride in the town and in his business, placing the quality of his products and the well-being of his workers ahead of profits. And in 1906, the townsfolk showed their pride in their major employer and benefactor by adopting his name for their community. Hershey, PA, is popularly called “Chocolatetown, USA”, and is often referred to as “The Sweetest Place on Earth”.
As time passed, Hershey added inexpensive public transportation, extensive recreational and cultural opportunities, and pleasant neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, with single- and two-family brick houses and manicured lawns that his workers could purchase. He was also concerned about adequate recreation, and built Hershey Park in1907, which offered amusement rides, a swimming pool and even a ballroom for dances and parties.
Likely due to her inability to have children, Kitty encouraged Hershey to establish a school for orphaned boys. In 1909, the Hershey Industrial School was founded, and Hershey donated his birthplace, the Homestead, as a home and school for the boys. The school still exists today, more than 100 years later. It’s named the Milton Hershey School, and accepts girls as well as boys.
Hershey remained deeply involved with his chocolate making and other enterprises, and the growth and well-being of his town, until he passed away in 1945 at age 88. During the war years and the Depression, Hershey had never failed to come up with ways to keep people busy and his companies profitable.
Hershey’s personal philosophy of persevering in the face of adversity to achieve one’s dreams was born as a teenager and young adult, struggling to succeed in the candy business. Recognizing an opportunity when it presents itself, and seizing it, was another of his obvious traits. A little luck never hurts, and help from others is always a bonus.
As for help from others, Hershey’s mother and Aunt Mattie, his uncles, and his partner William Lebkicher, all played key roles. Among the lucky things which often light someone’s life, Hershey and his wife Kitty had such an experience. They were in Europe in 1912, and booked passage home on a new, state-of-the-art British ocean liner named Titanic. But when Kitty was taken ill, they cancelled their Titanic tickets and came home on a different ship. Hershey kept that check, made out to the steamship company, as a lifelong reminder of the role that luck can play in the scheme of things.
Perseverance – never giving up no matter what they throw at you – certainly worked for Milton Snavely Hershey, and it has worked for countless thousands of others throughout history. It is the most frequently given advice to almost anyone having serious doubts about reaching their goals.
Here at Novus, our patients have recognized the opportunity to reclaim their lives, and are persevering through incredible adversity to make their dreams come true. And for our part, we couldn’t be happier to be there to help them achieve those sky-high goals of lives free from drugs and alcohol.
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