Milton Snavely Hershey

  by Millie Landis Coyle

Milton Hershey - Art Print by Pete FoleyMilton Snavely Hershey was born on September 13, 1857 to Fannie Snavely and Henry Hershey.  He was born on the Hershey family homestead which was built in 1826 in Derry Church, Pennsylvania by his grandparents, Isaac and Anna Hershey.  Milton's only sibling, Serina, was born in 1862.

His mother, Fanny Snavely, was the daughter of Bishop Abraham Snavely, a highly respected figure of the Reformed Mennonite Church and considered well-to-do.  Fanny Hershey raised Milton in the tradition of her strict Mennonite faith.

Milton's father, Henry, also raised in the Mennonite faith, was characterized as a highly intelligent man, but unrealistic.  Most of his many speculative endeavors to earn a living ended in failure. His failed "get rich schemes" created an unstable lifestyle for the Hershey family which troubled young Milton.

When Milton was nine years old, the Hershey family moved to "Nine Points" in the Lancaster area where they could be closer to Mrs. Hershey’s family.  

In 1866, Henry and Fanny purchased a small farm from Fanny's uncle where Henry decided to begin a trout and fish farm.  This too ended in failure.

In 1867, Serina died at the age of four.  She was buried in an unmarked grave at her mother's family plot in the New Danville Mennonite Cemetery.

As a result of his unstable family life, Milton attended seven different schools and never went beyond the fourth grade.  At the age of fourteen, at his father's bidding, Milton was apprenticed to Samuel Ernst, a printer at Gap, who printed a publication in the Pennsylvania German language.  Although the young lad was unhappy, he applied himself to learning the trade to please his father, hoping to bring stability to the family.  But Milton was not destined to be a printer and was dismissed for lack of attention to the trade.  He returned to his home in Nine Points.


In 1872, shortly after the failed printing apprenticeship, Fannie Hershey arranged for her son to be apprenticed to a Lancaster confectionery shop owned by Joseph Royer.  There Milton felt that he had found his future. His fondness and skill for making candies led him to launch his own candy business at the age of nineteen.

In 1876, Milton S. Hershey established his first business venture in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His staunchest supporters were his mother and her sister, Aunt Mattie.  They provided the financial and moral support needed to launch his business.  In 1880, a family friend, William Lebkicher joined Milton's enterprise and became his bookkeeper and all around man.   "Lebby" as he was known, was Milton's friend for life and played a large part in future endeavors.

In spite of help from his three supporters, Milton was forced to declare bankruptcy and return to the Lancaster area.  

After the Philadelphia failure, Milton joined his father in Denver, Colorado where Henry had hopes of striking it rich in the silver mines.  But Henry arrived too late and once again he was jobless.

In Colorado,  Milton managed to find a job with a candy maker where he learned some long-lasting lessons on making candy, one of which was the value of using fresh milk to make good candy.

In 1883, Milton launched a second venture into the candy business in New York City. His shop was located at Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets.  But again, with little capital, and much competition his business collapsed.

At the age of 29, Milton Hershey returned to his family home in Lancaster, shunned by his Snavely uncles who had suffered the loss of funds that had been invested in Milton's failed business enterprises.  Milton Hershey was looked upon as being as financially irresponsible as his father.

Throughout his ordeal, William Henry Lebkicher continued to help Milton both financially and morally. With the help of Lebkicher and another loan from Aunt Mattie he was able to purchase the necessary ingredients to begin a caramel making business.  He made his candy by day, and peddled it in the evening using a pushcart that had been given to him.

An English importer of candy, much impressed with the fresh taste and quality of the caramels, gave Milton a huge order.  Knowing this could be the turning point of his career, Milton S. Hershey managed to get a loan from the Lancaster County National Bank to fill the Englishman's order. 

The order was filled and Milton made enough money to pay off the bank loan and launch a successful caramel-making industry.  The Lancaster Caramel Company was incorporated in 1894.  Milton continued to produce baking chocolate, cocoa and sweet chocolate coating for his caramels under the name of the Hershey Chocolate Company.

Four years after his failures in Philadelphia and New York, Milton S. Hershey had become one of Lancaster’s most successful businessmen and a millionaire. His success in the caramel business led him to explore other areas of the confectionary world.  His travels enabled him to visit confectionery manufacturers throughout the world.

In 1891, Milton Hershey purchased a large mansion in Lancaster which he furnished in the manner of his new found status and became active in the social life of the rich and famous.

Milton's devotion to his mother was legendary.  Mother and son had established a bond that kept them close throughout their lifetime. Yet Milton always felt a sense of duty to his father in spite of their difference in life styles. In April 1897, Milton Hershey purchased the family homestead in Derry Church.  He refurbished the home to provide a stable home for his father while Milton and his mother continued to live in Lancaster.   Henry Hershey lived in the homestead until his death in 1904.

In 1898 at the age of forty-one Milton S. Hershey surprised his family and friends by marrying Catherine Sweeney, a beautiful and refined woman of the Roman Catholic faith.  Little is known about their courtship and how they came to meet.  They were married in the Rectory of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and returned to Lancaster and began what was to be a most loving marriage relationship.  They established their home in Lancaster where Milton had been living with his mother.  Milton provided another home for his mother at 143 Duke Street in Lancaster where she lived until she joined him in Derry Township.

Although Milton continued to produce chocolate in his Lancaster plant, his sense that there was a real market for affordable high quality milk chocolate led to his decision to produce more chocolate than his present facility would allow.

In 1900, retaining his chocolate manufacturing machinery and the right to manufacture chocolate, Milton Hershey sold the Lancaster Caramel Company for $1 million.

For a brief period of their lives, the Hershey's lived a rich life style.  They traveled abroad and did all of that was expected of those of their social status.  But Milton was restless and anxious to get on with his life in the business world.


It is difficult to sort out the many stories of Milton Hershey's reason for choosing to build his chocolate factory in Derry Township.   From the very beginning, it seemed that Milton Hershey looked for an area that was rich in dairying to provide the fresh milk needed for making milk chocolate.  His far-reaching plans were to build not only a manufacturing plant but also a model town.

In 1903, ground was broken on a six- acre plot in a cornfield close to a stretch of highway known as the Dauphin-Reading Turnpike. This was the humble beginning of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation which would someday become the largest chocolate manufacturing plant in the world.

During the construction of their mansion, Milton and Catherine lived at the family homestead, where Milton had built a small condensing plant to continue experimenting to perfect his milk chocolate formula.  

The Hershey's moved into their new home in 1908.  It was a rather modest mansion, known as High Point, and built on a hillside overlooking the Hershey Chocolate Factory.  The mansion, built of limestone quarried at the site, contained 22 rooms and was designed by Architect C. Emlen Urban from Lancaster.  Domestic help was limited to three persons.  The most impressing feature of High Point was the beautiful gardens laid out on the sloping hillside leading to the home.  The gardens were graciously open to the public.

Milton Hershey's decision to build a chocolate factory in the middle of a rural area was not by accident.  He was well aware of the needs of his employees and it was his desire to provide them with a healthy and beautiful environment unlike most company towns that were developing during that era.

Milton Hershey was anxious to provide, not only a healthy and pleasing environment, but also a place for recreation.  Land had been set aside for a community park, which opened to the public in the spring of 1907. 

He provide a community building known as the Cocoa House as the temporary site of a bank, post office, general store, and a modest boarding house for the use of the factory employees.

The Hershey Improvement Company was established to accommodate employees who wished to own their own homes.  The Company set strict guidelines for homebuilders to insure that the town would grow as Milton Hershey had envisioned it.

The town name of  "Hershey" was chosen and in 1906, the Hershey Post Office was instituted in 1906.


Perhaps because of her inability to have children, it was said that Catherine Hershey urged her husband to use his wealth to help establish a school for orphaned boys.

On November 15, 1909, Milton and Catherine Hershey signed a Deed of Charter to begin the Hershey Industrial School (now known as the Milton Hershey School). 

Milton Hershey turned over his birthplace, now known as the Homestead, to serve as a home and school for the boys.

On March 25, 1915, Catherine Hershey died after a long and debilitating illness.  Her last years were very difficult for Milton Hershey, as he tried everything that was in his power and invested much of his resources in finding a cure for Catherine. In spite of his wealth, Milton could not prevent the painful suffering that his wife endured in her remaining years.

Milton Hershey, though devastated by the loss of his wife, continued to live at High Point until his death in 1945.  In 1930, he gave his home to the Hershey Country Club for use as a clubhouse.  He retained only several rooms in an upstairs apartment and dedicated himself to his community and his chocolate making industry. 


Although Milton Hershey did not have any distinct church affiliation in his adult years, he never lost sight of the spiritual wellbeing of his community.  In 1935, he gave each of the five churches in Hershey a gift of $20,000.  A gift that helped many of  the  churches to pay off debts they had incurred during the depression.  Milton Hershey told those who strived to convert him that he simply followed the Golden Rule all of his life.


Despite his limited schooling, Milton S. Hershey had a remarkable knowledge of global affairs.  So much so, that he kept his chocolate company growing during a serious economic depression, two World Wars and a serious financial setback.

With the outbreak of World War I, sugar became scarce. At the time, the sugar used in the production of chocolate came from beet fields in Europe. Milton Hershey began looking elsewhere for sugar.

He would eventually establish his own sugar refinery and town in Cuba to solve the sugar crisis.  But before his Cuban resources were ready, Mr. Hershey accumulated a large supply of sugar to keep a reserve on hand until the end of the war. When the war ended, the sugar market collapsed and the price paid for the sugar during the war was higher than the sugar was worth.

Milton Hershey was placed in a position where he had to borrow money from the National City Bank of New York and had to mortgage his Hershey properties until the loan was paid off.  The bank appointed an official to come to Hershey to watch over the Hershey Chocolate Company until the loan was paid off.  Disgusted with the humiliation imposed on him by the bank officials, Milton Hershey paid off the loan in two years and was once again in charge of his domain

His next challenge came when millions of people throughout the country became jobless and homeless during the Great Depression of the 1930's.  From the very beginning, Milton Hershey was dedicated to retaining the economic structure that he worked so hard to build.   Having faith in the sound status of his chocolate making, and that the chocolate market would remain strong, Milton Hershey was determined to keep his town residents employed.

Taking advantage of a ready labor market and low cost building materials, he launched a massive building program that would not only provide needed buildings, but hundreds of jobs.  In the meantime the corporation continued to turn a profit, and his factory employees were able to keep their jobs.

Many still standing landmarks were built during this historical time period, perhaps the largest is the Hershey Community Building, which during its lifetime, housed a hospital, a junior college, library, dining and recreational facilities, and a fabulous theatre.  It now houses the offices of the Hershey Foods Corporation.

The Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Industrial School, and the Hershey Sports Arena were also built during the depression era.  Men from the Hershey Lumber Products, both skilled and unskilled, were kept busy during this massive building program.


Although Milton S. Hershey was involved with his chocolate making and the growth of his town until he passed away in 1945, he started to remove himself from the day-to-day decisions as he approached his late seventies.

His later years brought him much acclaim and recognition, not only from his townspeople but throughout the world.  His was a "rags-to-riches" story that biographers loved to write about.  On his 83rd birthday, the American Rose Society named a rose in his honor.

In 1937, the community of Hershey honored him with a surprise birthday party in the Hershey Sports Arena on his 80th Birthday.  It was one of the highlights of his life.

The 1940’s brought another devastating war that would be of much concern to Milton Hershey, both for the company and for his town.  The exodus of many young men of the community, and especially his orphan boys, going off to war out of high school was heartbreaking to the founder of this peaceful town in Pennsylvania.

Yet Milton S. Hershey, in spite of his advancing years, threw himself into the war effort with whatever resources were available to him.  In collaboration with the US Army and Samuel F. Hinkle, then chief chemist of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation, Milton Hershey encouraged research of a special chocolate bar that would be sustaining and not susceptible to melting in hot climates.  In time, an emergency chocolate bar was produced which met those requirements. 

As a result, the Hershey Chocolate Corporation was awarded an Army-Navy “E” flag for its war effort.  At the ceremony of the awarding of the flag, Mr. Hershey was asked to speak.  He told his audience that it was one of the proudest moments of his life. He ended his talk by making a statement, so typical of his approach to life.  He said   "It is too bad we had to become involved in this war.  But now that we are engaged in it, we’ve got to be up and doing if we want to come out on top."   Mr. Hershey lived long enough to see the end of World War II.

On September 13, 1945, Mr. Hershey celebrated his 88th birthday with a dinner held in the room at the Homestead in which he was born.  The cradle in which he was rocked was a part of the furnishings.  Many of his guests were colleagues who had been with him since he came to Hershey to establish his company and town.  It was to be their last celebration with the man who had been so much a part of their lives.

On October 13, 1945 Milton Hershey died at 10:00 A.M. in the Hershey Hospital. 

The community of Hershey came to a standstill.   

On October 16, 1945, Milton S. Hershey’s body lay in state in the foyer of the Hershey Industrial School.  A steady stream of his townspeople made their way up to the hill to honor the man and his memory.  Each had a story to tell about "M.S." as he was fondly known.

The funeral service, with all of the ministers of the Hershey churches in attendance, was held in the auditorium of the school.  Eight of his boys from the Hershey Industrial School senior class were chosen to be his pallbearers.

Mr. Hershey was laid to rest next to his beloved Catherine and his mother and father at the Hershey Cemetery.