The Henry Ford of the Chocolate Makers

Hearing the word “chocolate” immediately evokes the sense memories of a delectable Hershey’s chocolate bar.  The mouth begins to water, and the brain can no longer focus on any other task; the thought of biting into a rich Hershey’s bar becomes all-consuming.  Nevertheless, there is much more to explore about the history of the Hershey’s chocolate bar ― it certainly did not magically appear in almost every single deli and drugstore nationwide.  In fact, the development of what is now known and recognized as a Hershey’s chocolate bar took decades of trial and error to create the perfect chocolate bar that so many Americans crave every day.  

The Early Life of Milton S. Hershey:

The founder of Hershey’s chocolate, Milton Snavely Hershey, was born in Derry Township, PA, to Henry Hershey and Fanny Snavely (“Milton Hershey”).  When Milton was 15 years old, he began working at a confectionery story in Lancaster, gaining valuable experience in the exciting world of sugar at a very young age (Coe).  By the time Milton was 19, he owned a candy business in Philadelphia. With the help of his aunt Mattie, Milton was churning out caramel confections that quickly became extremely popular in the area (Coe).  This success was the result of two previous failed business attempts that left Milton completely penniless (“Who Was Milton Hershey”). In the mid-1880s, an English businessman sampled the caramels and immediately remarked, “You need to expand. These are so good” (Kenny and Koehn), giving Milton the encouragement he needed to recognize that he had talent and the understanding that he needed to develop his market into something more ambitious.  

The Beginnings of Hershey’s Chocolate:

The early exposure to the world of sugar that fueled Milton’s curiosity and the motivation he received to seek out a larger-scale business model inspired him to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 (Coe).  While at the fair, he discovered a German-made chocolate processing machine that, after purchasing the device on the spot, he initially began to use to create a chocolate coating for his caramels (Coe). However, not long after, Milton decided to veer away from producing caramels and venture into the world of chocolate.  After a trip to the Chocolate Centers of Europe in 1900, he sold his caramel business to the American Caramel Company for $1 million (“Lancaster Caramel Company”) and used the money to buy a farm back home in Derry Township to build his chocolate factory (Coe).

The plot of land that Milton purchased quickly transformed into an entire town and was no longer simply a working farm.  The town featured a private mansion where Milton lived with his wife, Kitty, the cocoa factory (the hub of activity), a department store, bank, church, and a zoo (Coe).  When Kitty and Milton realized that they were unable to have children of their own, they founded a school for orphaned boys in the town (“Who Was Milton Hershey”). The expansion of this town not only emphasizes the diverse nature of the Hershey’s chocolate company, but also the selfless and inclusive nature of the Hershey couple.  

Life in the Town of Hershey, PA:

As the factory began to take off and grow in popularity, Milton Hershey assumed the title of the “benevolent dictator,” as illustrated by his caring and understanding character (Coe).  Although the Hershey factory took shape during the Gilded Age ― the period of rapid expansion of industrialization in the United States during which many robber barons became utterly corrupt and began to monopolize certain markets ― Milton Hershey became more of a captain of his industry.  He was an ever-present fixture at the factory, always making sure that all parts of the whole were running smoothly (D’Antonio). Milton even bought beer for workers, ate at the same cafeteria with the laborers, and planted trees to create a welcoming sense of community within the town (D’Antonio).  While there was great political unrest on São Tomé and Príncipe where people were enslaved on the Cadbury cacao plantations, Milton Hershey believed it was essential for the laborers of Hershey, Pennsylvania, to be treated with respect and care. Among these workers was Fanny Snavely, Milton’s mother.  She left her husband and became her son’s most loyal employee ― working at the factory well into her 60s (Kenny and Koehn). Oddly enough, when the Cadbury company decided to boycott the slave plantations in 1909, the Hershey company did not participate in the ban. It is unclear why the leaders of this company would treat their American workers so well, yet continue to purchase chocolate from plantations that engaged in inhumane slave practices.

The decision to bypass the boycott could be simply rooted in greed.  When Milton Hershey established his new factory in 1904 (“Who Was Milton Hershey”), a full decade after founding his company, sales topped $1 million (D’Antonio).  Perhaps Milton was reluctant to retreat from the São Tomé plantation for fear of experiencing a drop in sales. Rather than withdraw, Hershey continued to buy farms to increase his growing chocolate empire, eventually reaching 10,000 acres in total (D’Antonio).

The Evolution of Chocolate Production

When Milton S. Hershey first began producing chocolate, he had no idea how to create the product which would one day make him a household name.  He spent months altering the heat, cooking time, and number of ingredients in an effort to develop a chocolate bar with the smoothest texture and richest taste (D’Antonio).  At first, his test tasters had negative reactions, claiming that Swiss chocolate was superior. Still, those who had never tried chocolate reacted very positively to the taste (D’Antonio).  Mr. Hershey took advantage of the rapid industrialization occurring at the time and utilized railroads to transport cocoa beans, sugar, and dry ingredients (D’Antonio). He built modern electric railroads in Cuba to transport refined sugar, even during the World Wars when other supply chains were hindered (Pleasance).  Milton Hershey vertically integrated his entire production, controlling all aspects from dry ingredients to tempering and molding.

By the late 1920s, 50,000 pounds of cocoa were produced each day (Coe).  This cocoa was used for the creation of the chocolate kiss in 1907, the milk chocolate almond bar in 1908, Mr. Goodbar in 1925, and the Krackel bar in 1938 (Lewis).  During the Second World War, an emergency nutrition bar, Field Ration D, was developed that would not melt in heat nor be too tasty that soldiers would be tempted to eat it as a snack (Lewis).  Thus, Milton Hershey not only created a chocolate product that appealed to the general public, but he also recognized an opportunity to tailor his products to appeal to those on the battlefield.

Political Climate at the Time

The Hershey’s chocolate factory began to take off in the midst of the second industrial revolution, alongside the rise of the steel, automobile, and railroad industries (Kenny and Koehn).  Despite stable employment in Derry Township, unemployment tanked to 26 percent during the Great Depression (Kenny and Koehn). During these changing times accompanied by technological developments, the Hershey factory was able to obtain the necessary equipment to become a force to be reckoned with in the rise of big businesses. In an interview with Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn, she discusses the history in greater depth. The podcast can be found at this link:

Hershey’s after Milton

Milton S. Hershey died at the age of 85 (Coe), but his company certainly did not perish after he was gone.  Today, Hershey’s annual sales top $7 billion (“Global Chocolate Sales of Hershey’s”), and it is one of only six companies that together account for 40% of the world’s cocoa use and one-quarter of global confectionery sales (Neilson).  In the 1960s, Hershey’s bought the manufacturer of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and two pasta businesses, and in 1988, the company purchased the American operations of Cadbury Schweppes, thereby becoming the maker of Mounds, Almond Joy, and York Peppermint Patties (Neilson).  The legacy of Milton and The Hershey Company will continue to live on through the delicious, mouthwatering chocolate bar that so many Americans love today.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013.

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.

“Global Chocolate Sales of Hershey’s, 2017 | Statistic.” Statista,

Kenny, Brian, and Nancy Koehn. “The Delicious History of Hershey’s Chocolate.” Audio blog post. Harvard Business School, 14 Feb. 2019. Web.

“Lancaster Caramel Company.” Hershey Community Archives, 6 Sept. 2018,

Lewis, Robert. “Hershey Company.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 May 2017,

“Milton Hershey.”, A&E Networks Television, 16 Jan. 2019,

Neilson, Jeff, et al. “Lead firms in the cocoa–chocolate global production network: an assessment of the deductive capabilities of GPN 2.0.” Economic Geography 94.4 (2018): 400-424.

Pleasance, Chris. “Inside the Cuban Ghost Town Founded by Chocolate Baron Milton Hershey.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 25 Jan. 2019,

“Who Was Milton Hershey | His History & Life | The Hershey Story.” Visit The Hershey Story Museum,

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