The Town That Chocolate Built

The town of Hershey was founded in 1903 by Milton S. Hershey, the “Chocolate King.” A few years earlier, he sold his caramel candy business for $1 million dollars to the American Caramel Company. In a shrewd business decision that was to change his life forever, he kept the rights to make chocolate.

Using the proceeds of the sale of his caramel business, he built a chocolate factory in the midst of Derry Township farmland. The supply of milk for his factory was plentiful and the Scotch-Irish citizenry was known for its good work ethic. In that time period, chocolate was not widely consumed or affordable. Mr. Hershey set out and succeeded in being the Henry Ford of chocolate, making the confection available to the masses. In the ensuing years, he became a millionaire many times over.

With his new-found wealth, Mr. Hershey built a town unlike any other company town in America. He provided for his workers, building homes they could afford to buy, not rent. He built a community center, hospital, fire company, library and a swimming pool.

Mr. Hershey felt strongly about a good education and his generosity extended to the public schools He built and operated a two year junior college, where the children of his workers and townspeople attended tuition free, save for books. A little known fact is that for over 65 years, not one cent of local tax dollars were spent on the construction of schools. Mr. Hershey reached into his pocket and built whatever was needed.

Although Mr. Hershey became known throughout the world for his famous chocolate, his crowning achievement was founding the Milton Hershey School for orphan boys in 1909.

Mr. Hershey and his wife Catharine (Kitty), who died in 1915, could have no children of their own. In an amazing philanthropic pursuit, they gave away the vast portion of their wealth into a trust to house, feed, educate and care for poor orphan boys. Mr. Hershey always told others that the school “was Kitty’s idea.” Since then, the school Trust has grown to nearly $5 billion, becoming one of the largest of its kind in the world. It has graduated thousands and now serves boys and girls not receiving adequate care from their families.