Hershey by Michael D'Antonio

This article was inspired by Michael D'Antonio's Hershey . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.


Lessons from Hershey

“In any time, M.S. Hershey’s accomplishments…would have been exceptional. But (doing) so in the first decade of the twentieth century made his success even more remarkable.”

Born to an ambitious father and deeply religious mother, Milton Hershey grew up in a home of extremes. While Henry Hershey, Milton’s father, continually moved around America and sought ways to make a fortune, his wife, Fanny Snavely, emphasized modesty and discouraged materialism. Milton’s parents had such radically different personalities that they eventually decided to live apart without divorcing each other.

Having gotten Milton a job Royer’s Ice Cream Parlor and Garden, Fanny instilled a hard work ethic in her son, while exposing him to the world of making sweets. When Royer patiently helped Milton correct mistakes, the young man paid attention and later emulated the same imperturbable behavior in his factory.

Traveling to the U.S.’s various boom towns, Milton Hershey determined what strategies worked and didn’t work for candy makers. During his journeys, he was shocked to see children dying in the streets. The ethical values his mother instilled in him would lead him to later seek to create a healthy environment for the poor.

At Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exhibition, Hershey bought enough chocolate making machines from J.M. Lehmann to run a factory. Taking from his father, he set his goals high as he wished to become “the largest chocolate maker in the world.” With his mother’s pragmatism, he took a dream and shaped his future.

Having attempted businesses selling cough drops and caramels, Hershey was enthusiastic to engage himself in the chocolate industry. Learning from his past mistakes, he set out on a promotional campaign that distinguished his chocolate from others. By giving away patriotic postcards, Hershey developed a connection between American ideals and his product in his customers’ minds. Emulating the branding practices of his major competitor, New England’s Walter Baker & Co., Hershey understood advertising.

The candy maker set his eyes on more than mastering the chocolate making business, taking the small, poor settlement of Derry Church, Pennsylvania and remaking into a utopian advertising center. Renamed “Hershey,” this example of the “city beautiful” movement demonstrated Hershey’s idealistic nature while bolstering his control of milk chocolate mass-production.

When met with challenges, Hershey dealt with them. World War I affected the sugar market, so Hershey started up a sugar production facility in Cuba, where his ethical behavior impressed the workers. Meeting his future wife, Catherine, on a business trip, he disregarded the rumors about her past and loved her.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from Milton Hershey is to put ethics first. Secretly putting his shares into a $60 million trust, Hershey started a school for impoverished boys (girls also attend today). His loans helped residents of Hershey, Pennsylvania weather the Great Depression. Rather than letting personal sorrow hold him back, Milton Hershey used his personal sadness at Catherine’s disease, “locomotor atraxia,” and inability to have children to motivate him to open an orphanage.

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