Earlier this month, Eileen and I took the kids to Hershey, Pennsylvania. We called it a vacation, even though we only spent a few nights at The Hotel Hershey. It’s a start – considering our last vacation was pre-kids, five years ago!
We splashed around in the pool, visited Hersheypark and ate far too much chocolate. It was a simple getaway, close to home, but we had a blast.
Here’s us waiting for the shuttle to the park (thanks for the face, Connor).
However, what fascinated me more than the rides at the park and the typical touristy stuff was the story of Milton S. Hershey.
The sweet smell of success…eventually
For those not familiar with the area, Hershey is located in the middle of Pennsylvania, surrounded by rolling hills, open spaces and plenty of cows.
It’s the town that Milton S. Hershey, founder of the now-famous Hershey Company, built to support his booming chocolate business.
But it wasn’t easy.
Milton grew up with entrepreneurship, of the failed variety, all around him. His father, Henry, roamed from idea to idea and failure to failure.
Milton, seemingly ready to follow in his father’s footsteps, dropped out of school at just 13 years old. With a sweet tooth and fascination of candy, Milton started his first confectionary company in Philadelphia, using money his aunt gave him.
It failed after a few short years.
He eventually moved to New York City and opened another candy company. Regardless of the countless hours he spent working on the business, it too failed.
He was broke.
Milton returned to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where everyone had given up on him – including his once-supportive family. He was alone, but still driven to find success.
Ever persistent, Milton founded Lancaster Caramel Company. Over the course of a mere six years, the company became wildly successful and quickly grew to 1,300 employees.
Milton went from complete failure to absolute success.
A risky bet and a focused future
Considered to be a risky venture by many, Milton sold his highly-profitable caramel business to his biggest competitor for $1,000,000 in 1900. He remarked,
“It’s the first million that’s hardest to get.”
He took the proceeds of the sale and went “all in” building his new chocolate factory in the town now known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.
At one point, the company made 114 different types of chocolate, before developing the simple chocolate bar we know today.
But Milton had a bigger vision in mind. He cared deeply for the people working for his growing company and built a utopian town around the factory to support them. He planned and built homes, streets, banks and more to care for his workers.
Here’s one of my favorite stories…
To employ his people during the Great Depression, he insisted a majestic new hotel be built atop the hill overlooking the factory and town bearing his name. During the construction of The Hotel Hershey, he noticed machines digging and told them to stop so that more people could be given jobs instead.
Ultimately, however, Milton was most proud of the school he and his wife Catherine created for orphaned boys. He gave all of his wealth to the school a few years after Catherine died and established a trust to ensure their vision remained in tact for years to come.
Today, the Milton Hershey School continues the tradition of providing a private, coeducational school regardless of family income. More than 2,000 students from across the U.S. attend and have access to unique award-winning programs, experienced teachers and caring adult mentors…all at no cost to them.
One of the sweetest legacies, bar none
Milton went bankrupt twice before he was 30 years old.
Today, the business, town and legacy he created continue to thrive.
His story of hardship, persistence and ultimate success is truly inspiring. How could one man do so much in 88 years?
Perhaps it’s as simple as working hard, staying focused and treating people right.