The name of Hershey has been synonymous with chocolate for over 120 years. This week, Tidbits highlights the man behind the company.

Milton Hershey grew up on the family farm in Pennsylvania’s Mennonite community, where the members spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. His father pulled him out of school to assist with the chores after the fourth grade, and that was the end of Milton’s formal education.

    At age 14, Milton was apprenticed to a local printer, the publisher of a German/English newspaper. He was terminated after a short time for accidentally dropping his hat into one of the machines. His mother then arranged for him to apprentice under a Lancaster, Pennsylvania confectioner, and for the next four years, Milton learned the art of creating sweet treats.

When he was 19, Hershey moved to Philadelphia to establish his first candy business, which, after six years, went bankrupt. It was on to Denver for the young man, and a new venture – making caramels with fresh milk. After a year, he settled in New York City, training at Huyler’s, the largest chocolate maker in the nation. At 26, Hershey tried it on his own again with his second business, but alas, another bankruptcy.

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Returning to Pennsylvania penniless, he borrowed money to launch the Lancaster Caramel Company. Using the recipe he had obtained in his early years which used fresh milk, success was finally his. By the early 1890s, Milton Hershey employed upwards of 1,300 workers in two separate factories. And where else would a candy maker meet his wife? In a candy shop while delivering an order!

In 1893, Hershey attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and while there, purchased equipment for the manufacture of chocolate. Back home, he began experimenting with ingredients for the perfect milk chocolate. This daring entrepreneur sold his caramel company for $1 million in order to concentrate solely on making chocolate.    By the following year, the Hershey Chocolate Company was producing chocolate caramels, baking chocolate, breakfast cocoa, and sweet chocolate. The first Hershey bars were sold in 1900.

    In 1903, in the middle of dairy farmland, construction began on what would become the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing factory. The facility was completed in 1905, and Hershey was already at work building a community, supplying it with housing, a bank, hotel, public schools, churches, parks, and a zoo. Today, the population of Hershey, Pennsylvania is over 14,000.

•      The company introduced Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, followed by the Hershey bar with almonds the following year.

    Mr. and Mrs. Hershey had a narrow escape from death in April of 1912. Having spent the winter in France, the couple was booked to travel home on the Titanic. Pressing business matters necessitated Milton to return home earlier than the doomed ship’s departure date, so he cancelled his tickets, sailing on a different liner. He arrived home in Pennsylvania five days before the sinking of the Titanic.

    Hershey and his wife Catherine, who were unable to have children, put their fortune to good work in 1909 with the establishment of a school for orphan boys. Three years after Catherine’s death, in 1918, Milton endowed the school with his entire fortune to ensure its longevity. The school, which expanded to include girls, is now the wealthiest private school in the nation, with an enrollment of 2,000. Only low-income students are admitted, and are educated free of charge.