Milton Snavely Hershey (September 13, 1857 – October 13, 1945) was an American chocolatier, businessman, and philanthropist.
At the age of 14, Hershey, who’d dropped out of school the year before, expressed an interest in candy making and began apprenticing with a master confectioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
In 1876, Hershey borrowed $150 from his aunt and moved to Philadelphia to start his first confectionery business in the heart of Philadelphia. At first, the candy shop did turn a small profit. As his business expanded, the shop became too small and a few years later Hershey moved down the street to larger quarters at 935 Spring Garden Street for his retail business.
Below: Historical Marker at 935 Spring Garden Street.
Milton worked long hours. Many nights he did not go home, but slept at the store under the counter. Instead of concentrating on one product, Hershey produced a variety of goods in an effort to appeal to everybody. Besides candy, he sold fruit and nuts, and ice cream.
After operating his first candy shop for six years, Milton Hershey’s first business venture collapsed in bankruptcy.
In 1886, Milton S. Hershey established the Lancaster Caramel Company in Lancaster, which quickly became an outstanding success.
In 1895, Milton Hershey erected a factory at 804 Penn Street. Samuel Flick received the contract for erecting the new building.
In August of 1898, Hershey employed about 100 people and produced about 300 buckets of chocolate caramels a week. Each bucket held 25 pounds.
On April 6, 1899 a fire broke out at 3:15 AM in the engine and boiler-room of the Hershey Building at 804 Penn Street. On the first floor of the Hershey Building, fronting on Penn Street, were two large store-rooms, nos. 802 and 844, with a wide corridor between, extending to a large apartment occupied by Hershey’s Lancaster Caramel Company. The company occupied the entire building, except the two storerooms. At 9:45 AM the firemen, after six hours of hard work, had the fire under control. The building was completed gutted entailing a total loss of between $140,000 and $150,000.
Architect A. F. Smith was engaged to make plans for the rebuilding of the Hershey building. The building was four stories in height with a frontage of 36 feet and extended 265 feet to Cherry street. The first floor was arranged in a single large store room. Part of the front, which was saved from the fire, was taken down, but the building was practically be a new structure throughout. The building was quickly rebuilt. Contractor George W. Beard received the contract to rebuild the Hershey factory. The front of the building was constructed of Indiana limestone and brick. The timber throughout was spruce and pine.
Below: Hershey Factory, 804 Penn Street, Reading, PA.
While Hershey was making caramels he became increasingly interested in chocolate making. In 1900, M. S, Hershey sold the Lancaster Caramel company and his Lancaster factory to the American Caramel company for $1,000,000. The factory at 804 Penn Street closed the same year and was converted to a “Home Store” which sold household furnishings, chinaware, clothing, shoes, etc.
Below: “Home Store,” 804 Penn Street, circa 1911.
Using the proceeds from the sale of the Lancaster Caramel company and factory, Milton Hershey purchased a large farm in the vicinity of Hockersville, several miles northwest of Campbelltown, and erected a chocolate factory on the farm. There, he could obtain the large supplies of fresh milk needed to perfect and produce fine milk chocolate. Excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury product, Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and market and sell it to the American public. Through trial and error, he created his own formula for milk chocolate. The first Hershey bar was produced in 1900. Hershey’s Kisses were developed in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was introduced in 1908.