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Milton Hershey: From Caramel to Cocoa

“A model town, a modern factory, a substantial business, these are the realizations of one businessman’s dreams.”

The Business World, 1903

That businessman was Milton Hershey, whose eponymous chocolate bars have become iconic American favorites. After several failed attempts at opening a candy store, Hershey finally managed to master the art of mass producing milk chocolate. But he didn’t just want to start a chocolate empire; Hershey wanted to build a lifestyle around his brand, both for employees and for the general public.


Hershey as an apprentice at Royer’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Milton Hershey was born on September 13, 1857 in Derry Township, Pennsylvania. By the time he was ten, his father was out of the picture, and his mother, Fanny, was solely responsible for Hershey’s upbringing. When Hershey expressed an interest in candy making at fourteen years old, Fanny found him an apprenticeship with a master confectioner in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Four years later, Hershey borrowed $150 from his aunt to set up his own candy shop in the heart of Philadelphia. But after five years, the store still only limped along. Hershey went west to Denver, where his father lived, and found a position with a confectioner. There, he learned the intricacies of making caramel using fresh milk. But Hershey wanted to work for himself, so he headed to Chicago to open his own shop. That didn’t get off the ground, so Hershey tried again–again unsuccessfully–in New York City.

In 1883, Hershey found himself back in Lancaster. But he hadn’t given up on his dream of building a candy company. Hershey started Lancaster Caramel Company using the techniques he’d learned in Denver. After only a few years, Hershey was selling his caramels all around the world. Why was Hershey’s caramel such a hit? Though the term “caramel” had been first used in the 1700’s to refer to a stage of cooking sugar, prior to 1857, there was no caramel candy–only butterscotch. The chewy American twist on English toffees and butterscotches emerged in the 1880’s, so Hershey was capitalizing on a new confectionary trend.

Then Hershey attended the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893. There, he got a first-hand look chocolate making. At the time, milk chocolate was considered exotic. Daniel Peter, who worked in the Nestle factory in Vevey, Switzerland, developed the formula for the first commercially viable milk chocolate in the world in 1887. He called it “Gala,” which means “from the milk” in Greek.

Hershey was determined to find a way to mass produce milk chocolate. His caramel business was thriving, so Hershey decided to undertake a new venture: Hershey Chocolate Company. He’d already been making chocolate to coat his caramels since 1894, and in 1900 Hershey took the plunge. He sold Lancaster Caramel Company to American Caramel Company. Then Hershey began searching for the perfect location for his chocolate factory.

After ruling out a number of more urban locations on the East Coast, Hershey ended up back home in Derry Township. He realized it was the ideal location: land prices were reasonable; the area had plenty of fresh milk; and the local population offered a reliable labor force. Perhaps more importantly, the location offered easy access to regional transportation centers. While his contemporaries feared the area would be too isolated, Hershey saw the promise of building a new town around his product and brand. Inspired by the “model town” movement of the era, Hershey planned to create an entire community around his product. He envisioned a wholesome town with modern facilities, where his employees and their families would love to work and to live.

Construction on the Hershey chocolate factory began in early 1903. Designed for maximum efficiency, the factory was laid out to receive raw materials at one end and to ship out finished products from the other. By mid-year, the town already had a school and a number of other important buildings were underway. Meanwhile Hershey decided to focus on a few key, high-quality products. He started with milk chocolate and breakfast cocoa. In 1907, he added Hershey Kisses chocolate candies, and the milk chocolate bar with almonds the following year.


The completed town certainly lived up to Hershey’s expectations, and he began promoting it as a tourist destination. He encouraged press coverage. From 1909 to 1918, nickel Hershey chocolate bars came with a postcard of the town. Hershey found another public relations opportunity that also served a national cause: during World War II, soldiers’ rations included Hershey’s Ration D Bar. He also produced the Tropical Chocolate Bar for the troops.

Since then, Hershey’s has remained a household name. Tourists still flock to the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania to tour the factories and visit the town’s amusement park. And Hershey has earned a place in the food history of the world.

Related Items

Hershey’s Educational Chart

Hershey_Cocoa_Education_ChartThis large, lavishly illustrated chart, illustrating the production of chocolate includes the eight stages of production: 1-Harvesting Cocoa Pods 2-Removing Beans From Pods 3-Roasting Cocoa Beans 4-Milling or Grinding Cocoa nubs 5-Manufacturing Cocoa Pods 6-Producing Wholesale Milk 7-Manufacturing Milk Chocolate 8-Moulding Chocolate Bars. Includes a map of the various countries that produce cocoa, a large in depth illustration of the cocoa pod, an illustration of the Hershey Production Plant, and two short stories: The Story of Cacao, and The Lands of Cacao. In text on exterior of chart: “The purpose of HERSHEY’S EDUCATIONAL WALL CHART is to visualize the manufacturing processes of Chocolate and Cocoa. It is folded to permit easy filing. Vocational Departments sometimes mount the cart on frame or wall board to display it permanently…Teachers have found the chart an excellent visual aid when covering assignments on Commercial Geography, Civics, and Home Economics.”  Details>>

Home Made Chocolates & Bon-Bons

Burton_Chocolates_Bon_BonsFrom the “Gold Medalist” author and teacher at the School of Confectionery in Blackpool George F Burton, comes written guidance on the art of chocolate-making. This book offers an incredibly thorough look at the intricate art of chocolate making, including: Utensils, Materials and Ingredients, Fondant Making, Chocolate Dipping, Cream Centers, Marzipan Centers, Crystallized Creams, Jellies, Caramels, Toffees, Gum Paste Work and Modeling, etc. It includes a black-and-white frontis photo of author, ten color plates, over 50 black and white illustrations, and two pages of advertisements. Details>>

Three Documents on the Cultivation and Production of Cocoa in Cuba

cocoa-cubaManuscripts in ink, various pagination. Two written by Don Carlos de Vargas Machuca y Cervetto (1803-1876), Governor of the Oriental Department of Cuba, now known as Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba.The first document written November 12, 1857,  addresses his reports to the Captain General of Cuba, Jose Gutierrez de la Concha. Vargas explains the current situation of agriculture in his province, pressing his ideas of how cocoa production could become a significant part of Cuba’s agricultural output. Vargas cites factual numbers and figures while proposing what should be done to increase the production. Second document written by Vargas on August 8, 1858, contains 22 pages. Vargas expands on his ideas and attaches a report re: cocoa exports from Oriente Province for years 1852-1857. The third document, written on May 23, 1860, by Francisco de la Paz at the Ministry of Public Works in Havana. This reply explains the measures that have been taken by the Government based on the reports by Vargas.Details>>


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This entry was posted on June 25, 2014 by in Baking and Confectionery Books, History and tagged , , , .
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