Milton S. Hershey: A Favorite Son of Lancaster

Written by James McMahon, Ph.D.

“… no man stands higher in business and social circles in the city of Lancaster than this man, who has been crowned with success.”
Portrait and Biographical Record of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1894

Image of Milton S. Hershey, circa 1887.
Milton S. Hershey, proprietor of the Lancaster Caramel Company, c. 1887. Photo: Milton Hershey School.

Milton Snavely Hershey, the man behind the chocolate bar, was in many ways a son of Lancaster. Though born in Derry Township, Dauphin County, (where the community of Hershey is now located), few people realize that he spent the bulk of his formative years in Lancaster county and city. Born in 1857, he moved to a farm in Bart Township where he lived with his family from 1866 until 1871; to Lancaster city from 1872 until 1876 as an apprentice candy maker; and again to Lancaster city from 1886 until 1905 as the owner of the Lancaster Caramel Company and Hershey Chocolate Company (after 1894). By the time he left Lancaster in 1905 to permanently relocate in the model company town of Hershey, the thirty-eight-year old Hershey had already spent twenty-eight years in Lancaster.

Image of the Lancaster Caramel Company factory and offices, circa 1896.
Lancaster Caramel Company factory and offices, c. 1896. Photo: Milton Hershey School

Milton Hershey’s success did not come without effort. In the ten years between 1876 and 1886, Hershey experienced several business failures. Although he returned to Lancaster with little more than the clothes on his back, he refused to give up. Initially, the caramel company began modestly, occupying only a small room at 335 Church Street. However, after a few short years, his factory extended over three-hundred feet along the 300 block of Church Street. After viewing an exhibit of chocolate making equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Hershey began experimenting with the manufacture of sweet chocolate, baking chocolate, and cocoa products in his caramel company building. In 1894, he created the Hershey Chocolate Company as a subsidiary of his caramel company. The immediate success of his chocolate company convinced Hershey to sell his caramel company and to focus on making chocolate. The sale of the Lancaster Caramel Company for $1,000,000 in 1900 provided Hershey with the necessary capital to pursue the manufacture of chocolate in a new factory in a new town.

Image of a Hershey bar wrapper.
The Hershey Chocolate Company was founded in Lancaster, PA. Photo: Milton Hershey School

As an entrepreneur, Milton Hershey is best remembered for pioneering the mass production of milk chocolate. Unfortunately few know—or remember—that it was his success in Lancaster in the manufacture of caramels that set the stage for his later accomplishments. Contemporary accounts like this one excerpted from the Portrait and Biographical Record of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania remind us of just how successful Hershey was in Lancaster:

The [Lancaster Caramel Company] plant is located on Church and Duke Streets, where they have a four-story building 104 x 207 feet in size. The factory is run by steam power, employing a thirty-horse power engine. To give the reader some conception of the magnitude of this concern, it only needs to be said that eight-hundred hands are employed. Caramels and chocolates are their specialty; they also operate a factory at Mt. Joy, where they employed about one hundred hands, and a factory at No. 119 West Harrison Street, Chicago, employing four hundred hands in a seven story building; they also have another factory at Geneva, Ill., employing one hundred hands. The original business was started in Lancaster and has grown to reach wonderful proportions. The machinery employed is of their own invention and is all covered by patents. Their trademark is “Crystal A.” These goods are shipped to all parts of the world, including Japan, China, Australia and Europe. The capital stock of this concern is $600,000, all paid up, and they do over a $1,000,000 worth of business per annum. In conclusion it only needs to be said that Milton S. Hershey has made a complete success of life so far, and is the president of the largest concern of this kind in the world. Politically, Mr. Hershey is a firm supporter of the Republican party, and no man stands higher in business and social circles in the city of Lancaster than this man, who has been crowned with success.

Illustration of a Riker Electric delivery vehicle with "Hershey's Cocoa" on the side.
Photo: Milton Hershey School
Image of "Confectioner's Journal," a trade publication from October 1892.
Confectioners’ Journal, a trade publication, October 1892. Photo: Milton Hershey School

Milton Hershey also experienced a number of other firsts in Lancaster. An innovative and resourceful businessman, Hershey purchased what is considered to be one of Lancaster’s first automobiles and first electric delivery vehicle and emblazoned it with “Hershey’s Cocoa” on each side. Put in to service in February 1900, the use of a motorized delivery wagon in the age of the “horseless carriage” to both advertise and deliver his product proved to be a stroke of genius, attracting crowds wherever it went.

Once again, a contemporary account, this time from an article that appeared in the Lancaster New Era, on February 13, 1900 bears witness to this Lancaster first: “The Hershey Chocolate Company will have the distinction of having introduced the automobile into Lancaster, and for business purposes, too.” The article went on to note that the vehicle, “will haul a load of about two thousand pounds with a storage battery with sufficient power to carry the machine thirty miles.  It will be quite a novelty to see an automobile on our streets and will be sure to attract much attention.”

Image of a classroom in the Science Building in the Milton Hershey School.
According to a 1906 college publication, the Science Building was erected at a cost $75,000. Photo: Franklin & Marshall College

As a successful businessman, Milton Hershey believed it was his responsibility to be of service to others and to give back to society by distributing his wealth to help others. In Hershey, that vision would be realized when he and his wife, Catherine, would create the Hershey Industrial School (now Milton Hershey School) by Deed of Trust on November 15, 1909. It would be in Lancaster, however, that Milton Hershey would make his first verifiable charitable gift—a substantial donation to Franklin and Marshall College to equip a chemical laboratory in the college’s new Science Building (now Stager Hall). Known as the Milton S. Hershey Chemical Laboratories, the June 1902 minutes of the board of trustees record that, “The Chemical Department has been splendidly equipped by Milton S. Hershey of this city, the outfit costing about $5,000.”

In Lancaster, the Hersheys, particularly Catherine, became active supporters of the Lancaster Charity Society, an organization devoted to aiding the poor families and children of Lancaster city. The society supported “the elevation of the moral and physical condition of the indigent, and for relief of their necessities… makes distribution of clothing and other necessities, and looks after the general welfare of the sick and the needy and strives to find homes for deserted children, employment for the unemployed and temporary lodging, with meals, for men and women.”

Image of the Hershey home at 222 South Queen Street. It was demolished in 1951.
The Hershey home at 222 South Queen Street. The house was demolished in 1951. Photo: Milton Hershey School

Catherine’s work with the Lancaster Charity Society most likely played some role in preparing the Hersheys for the work of creating a school and home for poor orphan children in Hershey in 1909 as well as influencing, to some degree, the educational philosophy of the school. Both organizations shared a common interest in providing practical self-help and aid to the poor as well as in training young people to be self-sufficient. The Society specifically wished boys, in particular, be “trained in some line of manual work.” The Deed of Trust establishing the Hershey Industrial School similarly stated that boys be, “thoroughly instructed in some occupation or mechanical trade so that when he leaves the school… he may be able to support himself.”

Milton Hershey and Catherine Sweeney Hershey married on May 25, 1898. Their first home was in Lancaster at 222 South Queen Street. The Hersheys loved to travel. Their favorite destination was Europe, particularly the city of Nice on the French Riviera. The Hersheys spent most of the winter of 1911-1912 in Nice.

Did you know that they had planned to return home in April of 1912 and had booked passage on the maiden voyage of the new White Star Line steamship Titanic? Read more!

This entry was written by James McMahon, Ph.D. for the Archives Blog.

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To continue reading about Milton Hershey, visit Dr. McMahon’s latest entry, “A Titanic Story.”


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