A Titanic Story: Milton Hershey’s Near Sail on the RMS Titanic

A Titanic Story – Milton Hershey’s Near Sail on RMS Titanic

Written by James McMahon, Ph.D.

Milton and Catherine Hershey visit the Pyramids of Giza, April 1913.
Milton and Catherine Hershey visit the Pyramid of Giza, April 1913. Catherine is seated in the car; Milton on a mule. Photo: Milton Hershey School

Milton and Catherine Hershey loved to travel. From the time of their marriage on May 28, 1895 until Catherine’s Hershey death on March 25, 1915, the Hersheys embarked on multiple tours of the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. They enjoyed visiting historic sites, including castles, museums, and even the Great Pyramid of Giza as well as getaways to seaside resorts, mountains, and spas. As Catherine’s health began to deteriorate, these trips were increasingly made to visit spas and springs in the United States and Europe to consult with specialists who thought they could help her with an illness that gradually robbed of her of her strength and mobility.

Milton and Catherine Hershey photographed in Nice, France, 1910.
Milton and Catherine Hershey in Nice, France, 1910. Photo: Milton Hershey School

The Hersheys favorite travel destination was Europe. As Catherine’s physical health worsened, the Hersheys increasingly spent winter months in the south of France along the French Riviera, especially the towns of Nice, Marseille, and Grasse. The sunshine and warm sea breezes seemed to help Catherine feel better. While in Europe they also visited the renowned thermal baths of Germany in an effort to alleviate some of the more distressing physical symptoms of her illness. For trips across the Atlantic, they relied on ocean liners. Both the SS Amerika and the SS Kaiser Auguste Victoria of the Hamburg America line of Germany were favorites of the Hersheys.

Hershey Trust Company cancelled check to White Star Lines.
Hershey Trust Company cancelled check to White Star Line. Photo: Hershey Community Archives

In December 1911, the Hersheys left for France to begin an extended tour of Europe, spending most of the winter of 1911-12 in Nice. At the time of their departure, Milton had planned a return home in April to attend to business—and to return home on the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. On December 18, 1911, Hershey had written a check to the White Star Line, owners of Titanic, in the amount of $300. That cancelled check is now housed in the Hershey Community Archives and a copy of it can be seen on exhibit in The Hershey Story. The cost of a first class stateroom on the vessel ranged between $3000 and $4000, suggesting that Hershey made a 10% deposit to reserve a stateroom.

Rather than sail home on Titanic, Milton Hershey was forced to change his plans at the last minute to attend to a business matter that required his attention in the town of Hershey. Rather than wait until April 10 when Titanic was scheduled to leave from Cherbourg, France for Ireland before setting sail for New York, he instead booked passage on the German liner SS Amerika, leaving France on April 6 and arriving in New York on April 7. Catherine remained in Europe, accompanied by traveling companions Ruth Hershey and Berta Candoni. Ironically, on a subsequent voyage, it would be the Amerika that would notify Titanic of large icebergs in the North Atlantic on the morning of April 14; a warning ignored by the captain of Titanic.

Postcard sent by Catherine Hershey from Bad Kissingen.
A postcard sent by Catherine from Bad Kissingen. Photo: Milton Hershey Schoo

I think most of us know the story of what happened to RMS Titanic. The ship struck an iceberg on the evening of April 14 and eventually sank in the early morning hours of April 15. 1,513 of the 2,224 passengers and crew on board died. The news of the sinking was not lost on Catherine Hershey. On the back of a postcard sent by Catherine Hershey from Bad Kissingen, a spa in the Bavarian region of Germany to Fanny Hershey, Milton Hershey’s mother, she wrote:

For Mother — This is an old castle & see how they wall up the sides of mountain grow grapes up on side of very steep grade.  Just heard of sinking of the big steamer.  How thankful I am God directs to safety in our travels.  We are having cold crisp weather here. Hope for warmer soon. Love from Kitty

Image of Milton and Catherine Hershey aboard the SS Kaiser Auguste Victoria.
SS Kaiser Auguste Victoria, the largest passenger liner in the world at the time of its construction in 1906, brought the Hersheys home from Europe in the spring of 1913. Milton is standing to the far left. Catherine is standing third from the right. Photo: Milton Hershey School

With his business completed, Milton would eventually rejoin Catherine in Europe. The SS Kaiser Auguste Victoria, the largest passenger liner in the world at the time of its construction in 1906, brought the Hersheys home from Europe in the spring of 1913.

Milton Hershey’s near sail on Titanic was documented on the front pages of both The Daily New Era-Lancaster and the Hershey Press.

The Daily New Era—Lancaster, April 18, 1912: Mr. Milton Hershey of Hershey, Pa. the chocolate manufacturer, was in Lancaster on Wednesday and told his friends of the narrow escape he made from having taken passage on the Titanic. It was his intention to sail on the great liner originally, but finding that it would reach New York later than he desired to land he booked on the German liner “Amerika,” which arrived several days ago. It was this steamer, the “Amerika,” that sent a warning to Captain Smith, of the Titanic on the day prior to the collision that sent her to the bottom, advising him of the presence of huge icebergs in the very locality in which the great steamer met her doom. Captain Smith received the Amerika’s wire for he replied thanking the captain of the German liner for his advice.

Hershey Press, April 11, 1912: M.S. HERSHEY RETURNS SUNDAY
Mr. M.S. Hershey, who has been sojourning in Cimiez-Nice, France, during the winter, with Mrs. Hershey, returned to America on Saturday, arriving in New York on Saturday on steamer “America” [sic]. Mr. Hershey arrived in Hershey Sunday afternoon. 

What If Milton Hershey Sailed on the Titanic?

If Milton Hershey had sailed on Titanic, there is a good chance he might not have survived. Being wealthy did not insure survival—fellow millionaires John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in the world; Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s; and mining magnate Benjamin Guggenheim, all died on Titanic. So, if Milton Hershey had died, what might “Hershey” look like today?

The town of Hershey, founded in 1903, was already well established; however, it would probably look quite different. Hersheypark, then Hershey Park, was simply an ideal spot for picnicking and boating. Many of the landmark buildings that dot the Hershey landscape were not constructed until the 1930s. These include Hotel Hershey; the Hershey Community Building, home to the Hershey Theatre; Hershey Gardens; the Hersheypark Arena and Stadium; and the former Senior Hall (now Catherine Hall) of Milton Hershey School on the hill above Hersheypark.

By 1915, the chocolate company was also well established, although the product line only included cocoa and baking chocolate, 1894; milk chocolate bars, 1900; kisses, 1907; and milk chocolate bars with almonds, 1908. It is difficult to say what other products we might enjoy (or not enjoy) if Milton Hershey was not there to oversee the company and its product line.

Milton Hershey School, founded in 1909 by Deed of Trust as Hershey Industrial School, would most likely still exist. However, the program of the school might look quite different since Milton Hershey took a personal interest in the school until his own death on October 13, 1945.

If Milton Hershey had died on Titanic, might Catherine Hershey, now a wealthy widow, have remarried? Imagine, if you will, a scenario where her surviving spouse was a man of influence, perhaps a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt, more concerned with his own interests than those set in motion by Milton Hershey.

Just some things to think about!

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

Want to read more about Milton Hershey? Read Dr. McMahon’s earlier blog entry, “Milton S. Hershey: A Favorite Son of Lancaster.”


From Archives Blog