The Van Trump Report

From High School Dropout to “Candy Kisses”… How Millions Were Made!

Milton Hershey can thank his mother Fanny for stepping up to the plate to raise him after she left his father following years of his repeated failures as he searched for the “next big thing.” With Hershey’s upbringing left in the hands of his mother, the strict Fanny instilled in her son an appreciation for hard work, which he would embrace by the age of 14 when he dropped out of school for good. After deciding that apprenticing in a print shop was boring, and being influenced by his mother and aunt to pursue his interest in candy making, Hershey went to work with a master confectioner in Lancaster Pennsylvania.

Four years later, Hershey borrowed $150 from his aunt to begin his business in Philadelphia, but eventually shut operations down after just 5 years. Interestingly, he would move to Denver, reunite with his father, and once again find work with a confectioner. It would be here that the trajectory of Hershey’s life would soon change, after discovering caramel and how fresh milk was used to create it. 

Coming home to Lancaster in 1883, Hershey borrowed seed money from the bank and started the “Lancaster Caramel Company”. Using the recipe he had obtained in his travels he quickly became a success after discovering that caramels sell better in bulk. An English businessman wandered into the store one afternoon, tasted a Hershey caramel and immediately placed a huge order to be delivered to Britain and profits soared. Prudently, Hershey used his financial success to pay off all his debt and buy more equipment and ingredients.

Visiting Chicago to attend the World’s Exposition in 1893, Hershey got his first up-close look at the art of chocolate making and was immediately hooked. While his caramel business boomed he would go on to start the “Hershey Chocolate Company” and focus on milk chocolate, which at the time was not only considered a delicacy, but also the domain of the Swiss. Like the caramel bulk sales that brought huge success, Hershey was determined to find a chocolate formula that allowed for mass production and distribution. Interestingly, at the height of his success, Hershey sold the Lancaster Caramel Company for an astonishing $1 million, which at the time was huge money.  

Through trial and error, Hershey would eventually create his own formula for milk chocolate and on March 2, 1903, he began construction on what was to become the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing company. The facility was completed in 1905 and would use mass-production methods and quickly became the first nationally marketed product of its kind. I should mention the first Hershey bar was produced in 1900 and was soon followed by the Hershey’s Kiss in 1907 and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds in 1908.

Building their success was due in part to Hershey’s belief that providing better living conditions for its workers resulted in better work, today we would call this establishing a successful culture. As the company grew and Hershey’s wealth expanded, so did his vision for creating a model community in his home region. In the town that came to be known as Hershey, Pennsylvania, a young Milton Hershey would build schools, parks, churches, recreational facilities and housing for his employees. I’m told he even added a trolley system for his workers. 

Milton Hershey definitely knew the benefits of helping others. Though not educated himself and not much of a reader or writer like most successful businessmen of the day, he did what he could to influence those around him to pursue higher education. It’s worth mentioning that Hershey and his wife Catherine, who couldn’t have children of their own, directed a good portion of their giving on endeavors that positively impacted kids, and in 1909, opened the Hershey Industrial School. The Facility is still in operation today as the Milton Hershey School, originally a facility for orphaned boys, but has since become a landing spot for girls as well.
There’s a ton of American history that both the man and the company were a part of including his narrow escape from being on board the Titanic as it sunk. From what I understand, the Hershey’s were booked on the maiden voyage, but business matters requiring his attention forced him to change travel plans. I’m told a copy of the check he wrote to the White Star Line for a deposit is located at the Hershey Story Museum. 

Boomers will remember Hershey’s contributions to the WWII war effort as they were kicking out over 24 million ration bars a day by the end of the war. Interestingly, the Ration D bars had very specific requirements from the army, meaning it had to resist melting at temperatures higher than 90 degrees, and it had to have an unpleasant-enough flavor to prevent the troops from developing cravings for them. I should mention, for their service throughout World War II, the Hershey Chocolate Company was issued five Army-Navy ‘E’ Production Awards for exceeding expectations for quality and quantity in the production of the Ration D and Tropical Chocolate Bars. 

Hershey is a great American success story on many fronts with lessons we can take away as we position our businesses for the future, but the bottom line, in my opinion, is the focus on putting people first in life and in business. Milton put his beliefs into action and it made a difference in not only the lives of the workers and the company but for consumers worldwide. (Sources:,,, 

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