Living Out the American Dream: Hersheytown, PA

After a rough start in the late nineteenth century, Milton S. Hershey had finally grown a booming business in caramels. He then began to set his sights on the next horizon: milk chocolate. After experimentation to create his own type of milk chocolate that would last longer on shelves, Hershey began expand this product, soon producing on a mass scale. At the turn of the twentieth century, Hershey had decided to expand his productions into an all-inclusive company town where his workers would live and work. Hershey town’s utopian ideals and local production allowed the company to brand itself as distinctly American and embrace a national market.

Hershey-PAsign

(Photo Source: http://billontheroad.com/hershey-pennsylvania/)

The ideology of the Hershey Chocolate Company town presented a contrast from the status quo and appealed to the values of equality and anti-corruption that were popular at the time. Milton Hershey’s idea to build Hershey town coincided with and were influenced by the rise of the progressive movement, supporters of whom wanted to “make American society a better and safer place to live[1] .’ During this time, Roosevelt enacted key antitrust legislation, and large corporations were often vilified as corrupt and exploitative. Under this atmosphere, Hershey wanted to create a utopia town that embraced big business with responsible ethics. Unlike other company towns, Hershey’s town was meant to provide a stable and fruitful living environment for its workers. Hershey first framed the town as the “perfect American town” that represented “right-living and well-paid workers [who] lived in safe, happy homes (D’Antonio 115).”

hersheyhouse2

 

(Photo Source: http://www.hersheyhistory.org/collections/photo-gallery)

Indeed, Hershey maintained the economy of his town through home ownership, a key distinction that separated it from other often oppressive company towns and a key aspect of the “American dream[2]”. D’Antonio sheds light on how Americans were thus able to buy more than chocolate from the Hershey Corporation:

“This meant that people who purchased Hershey Chocolate weren’t just buying a treat, they were contributing to a grand experiment that was going to prove that big business, often feared and resented, could do remarkable good.” (115).

By including a social benefit in addition to good quality, the Hershey Corporation appealed not only to its consumers, but also empowered its workers as well furthering the brand in fulfilling its progressive ideals [6]. In the first year of manufacturing in the town, net sales increased 25% to $1 million (D’Antonio 119).

hersheykissworker

(Photo Source: http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/tag/hershey-park/)

Hershey’s local production aligned with traditional American of small farmers and factory workers . Incorporating small local dairy farms (through acquisition or partnerships) and forming a strong factory worker engaged both visions of the quintessential American worker. The farmer evoked a more traditional outlook, and Thomas Jefferson characterized them as representing the foundation of republican values[5]. In a documentary on the “Great American Chocolate Factory”, the narrator invokes the historical place of the dairy farmers as doing the work their “fathers and grandfathers[3]” had done before them. On the other hand, factory workers represented a shift in the American economy through industrialization, and America’s economic growth was centered on this sector of the population.

Appealing to ideologies and concepts consistent with the American public and history through Hersheytown, the Hershey company rose as a quintessential “American” company. Hershey’s employed this position in advertising as well. Although it is unclear when the phrase “Great American Chocolate Bar” first came into use, this saying was widely employed in advertising in the 1980s. A series of commercials were released depicting scenes that were seemingly supposed to represent iconic portions of American life and populations. This commercial that aired in 1983 plays upon key images – a scene with a child eating Hershey’s at a baseball game, America’s pastime, and finishes with a Native American man and his son eating Hershey’s on a horse by the mountainside. These images represent both contemporary America as well as America’s true origins.  While the visuals evoke a wide range of American imagery, the jingle emphasizes the local aspect of Hershey production. The last line of the commercial – “You don’t have to go very far, because Hershey’s is the great American chocolate bar[4]” – emphasizes the local “truly American” and ubiquitous nature of the food product.

Hershey Chocolate Company and the town that bears its name have their roots in the American dream. What better name than the Great American Chocolate Bar!

(Photo Source: http://www.stationbay.com/images/products/preview/fo1394.jpg)

Citations

[1]http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/progress/ – Library of Congress “Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929

[2] 80+ % of Americans believe homeownership is important and still part of American dream – Merill Lynch study – https://www.ml.com/articles/age-wave-survey.html

[3] “Great American Chocolate Factory” –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP1_746b6ZM – 00:15

[4] 1983 Hershey’s commercial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa8D9dLiRQ0 .

[5] Samuel C. Hyde Jr., “Plain Folk Yeomanry in the Antebellum South,” in John Boles, Jr., ed., Companion to the American South, (2004) pp 139-55

[6] Company Town: Hershey, PA – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-YRevHegL8 – 3:30-34

Additional Works

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon &Schuster: New York, 2006.

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