“ . . .there is no provision for a police department, nor for a jail. Here there will be no unhappiness, then why any crime.” Milton Hershey, 1903, on planning Hershey, PA
If it wasn’t for shipping costs, Hersheypark might have been built in New Orleans. In 1883, after less than a year, the struggling caramel candy entrepreneur Milton Hershey gave up on a southern location and moved back to his home state of Pennsylvania. The Hershey Story – aka the chocolate museum on, naturally, Chocolate Avenue – may strip any cynicism one may have concerning philanthropy. A visit to the Hershey Story generated both awe and admiration at the tenacity and vision of a single candy maker – and his extraordinary legacy.
It’s the chocolate first, though, especially milk chocolate. At the Hershey Story’s Chocolate Lab, Gail Forbes explains that chocolate (cacao) is native only to Mexico, yet Africa now produces 70% of the world’s supply. The Portuguese established cacao production in central western Africa in the 17th century. Cacao now thrives worldwide but only within a narrow band 5° north and south of the Equator.
One cacao pod contains an average 30 beans and will produce enough edible chocolate for a 3-ounce bar. This enjoyable hour long hands on chocolate class resulted in the group molding individual milk chocolate bars and seasoning them with optional additions including bitter chocolate shavings, cinnamon and red pepper flakes. The Chocolate Lab has an extensive schedule of events and classes.
The exhibits in the Hershey Story are laid out within a modern spacious interior in chronological order covering cacao and chocolate processing, the long life and career of Milton Hershey, the company, the town and his legacy. In 1903, already having segued from caramels into trendy Swiss milk chocolate, Milton Hershey moved his company from Lancaster. Among the many reasons he purchased a vast amount of Derry Township, besides being born there, was to construct a modern assembly line factory achieving a cost reduction that would put chocolate into the hands of working class children.
In Pennsylvania’s agricultural heartland, he created extensive dairy farms securing a controlled supply of milk. To this day, only black & white Holstein cows produce the milk that’s processed into the double condensed milk developed by Milton himself that gives Hershey’s milk chocolate its creamy texture.
Yet another major interest for the sizable land investment was to establish a model company town. Inspired by Bourneville, the village created by England’s progressive Cadbury brothers (Cadbury chocolate), Hershey , Pennsylvania, would include housing, churches, schools, health facilities, public transit, theaters, a vast community center, a luxe hotel, an award-winning public rose garden and the ever-popular Hersheypark (1907). Like Bourneville, foresight and the company’s continued success ensured the town’s future prosperity.
Milton encouraged home ownership and private businesses, even competition. Harry Burnett Reese was a young worker at the Hershey chocolate factory when he was inspired to make candy on his own in his home’s basement. With investment from Milton Hershey himself, the peanut butter cup was born in 1928 and the H.B. Reese Candy Company thrived. The business admiration was mutual since the chocolate was procured from Hershey. Reese’s became a valuable brand for the Hershey Chocolate Company when purchased from H.B.’s heirs in 1963.
In 1909 Milton and Catherine Hershey added a unique institution to their town and their legacy when they created a perpetual endowment for the Milton Hershey School by signing over their shares – and ownership – of the Hershey Chocolate Company. Providing orphans comprehensive residential K – 12 education and training (and beyond in many cases) the Milton Hershey School continues its mission today as a model co-ed institution serving a population that’s often at risk. The Hershey Story has an extensive exhibit on the school’s enviable success.
Established in 1935, the M.S. Hershey Foundation’s mission has been to concentrate on community educational projects, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the Hershey Gardens and The Hershey Story. Even during the Great Depression, Hershey was spared the worst. The luxurious Hotel Hershey and other company supported construction projects were completed during the 1930s. In the 21st century, Chocolate Avenue’s Hershey Kiss street lamps light a vibrant and attractive commercial center including many original buildings and cafes.
Hershey Gardens was laid out as a public space in 1935 by Milton in front of the hotel and provide a panoramic view of Hersheypark. It includes acres of original roses, a delightful children’s garden and butterfly house and an extensive arboretum with complimentary plantings. Like all things in Hershey, horticultural coordinator Brooke Umberger detailed a list of community outreach projects especially aimed at environmental education for children.
At the end of a long leisurely tour, a Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting at The Hershey Story’s Café Zooka gives visitors the chance to sample hot drinking chocolate from a half dozen locations of the globe. This is thick rich warm chocolate like a liquid bar. From the tiny super supplier African island of Sao Thome’s earthy deep cocoa to Java’s caramel undertones and ancient Mexico’s spicy Aztec brew, chocolate has pleasured millions, but it created the means for Milton and Catherine Hershey to provide a continuing legacy of humanitarian service.
Discloser: the author was a guest of the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. Check their site for up-to-date event listings.
Hershey, PA, is conveniently located off the Pennsylvania Turnpike just east of Harrisburg and 95 miles west of Philadelphia. Domestic and international flights service Harrisburg International Airport and Amtrak provides national rail.
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