The Self-Made Man: Milton Hershey

As someone who eats a lot while he writes, I have become very familiar with Hershey’s products over the years. If only I’d paid that kind of attention to the company’s history, because its founder?one Milton S. Hersey?was a classic, Victorian-era entrepreneur with more wit and determination than schooling. In honor of his delicious legacy, he’s this week’s Self Made Man.

Oh, and the S. stands for Snavely. Really. Dude had a Harry Potter name.

Anyway, Milton was born in Pennsylvania Dutch country, which explains his later career making unhealthy food that tastes good. He grew up with Mennonite parents on a farm, which instilled a certain amount of work ethic and self-denial in him. He was pulled out of school as a boy to become a printer’s apprentice, but he hated the job (he was fired for dropping his hat into one of the machines) and became a confectioner’s apprentice instead.

Milton learned how to make candy, and he got a crash course in caramels during a trip to Denver, but he had trouble making a name for himself at first. He tried opening candy stores in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, but they all failed. Milton eventually returned home, convinced that he was a screw-up who would never find his way.

Even then, he refused to give up. He made caramels with fresh milk, which made them taste better than his local competitors, and they became quite popular. He started the Lancaster Candy Company to sell them, and his other confections of course, and at long last, he picked a winner. Milton became one of Pennsylvania’s top businessmen, sending his candies all over the country, and into Europe as well.

The Chicago World’s Fair taught Hershey that chocolate was the future of the candy business, and he bought a set of chocolate making machines from Germany and sold the Lancaster Candy Company, with plans to build a giant chocolate factory that could mass-produce chocolate, and then develop a town around it, modeled after the Cadbury company in England. The result was Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Hershey was an unorthodox company town, in that the factory workers owned their houses instead of renting from their employer like most company towns. It was also designed to be modern, complete with an electric railway system. Milton wasn’t perfect, but compared to many of his peers he was downright saintly.

The main thing to take away from Milton Hershey’s story is that he wasn’t a success right away. Hell, most people aren’t. Milton didn’t give up when life threw marbles under his feet, and he learned from his failures and applied those lessons when he finally succeeded.

I’ll leave you with this interview with Hershey Community Archives director Pamela Whitenack, who is something of an expert on all things Hershey.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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