Monday, April 22, 2019

A Life of Milton Hershey

"In the early twenties, two professors at New York University surveyed more than a thousand people to discover the power of product names. In chocolate Hershey was first; other category leaders were Kellogg in cereal, Ford in cars, and Ivory in soap." (p. 177)
The slightly strange cover of D'Antonio's book.
Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams is an excellent biography by Michael D'Antonio. Milton Hershey (1857–1945) was very much a man of his time, and D'Antonio's book contains much of the social history of his era as well as the story of Hershey's childhood, his minimal education, his first job as a young teenager working in an ice cream and candy store, his earlier failed efforts to found a candy company -- and then his spectacular success manufacturing chocolate bars.

An icon: the Hershey Bar
Every American alive today has almost certainly tasted the products of the Hershey chocolate company. We all have a mental image of the deep brown wrapper with the silver-grey word "HERSHEY'S" on it -- and this has been true for well over a century.

We all know the Hershey Kiss.
Hershey and a few employees developed the industrial technique for making chocolate bars, though a few manufacturers in Switzerland and England had also created similar candies. The smooth mouth feel of this candy, the milk-and-chocolate flavor, the slight crunch when you bite into it, and the way it melts on your tongue were all absolutely new to Hershey's early customers. They loved it (who doesn't). Using a variety of marketing techniques, the Hershey Corp. managed to distribute chocolate products throughout the country.

Hershey's insight into the potential for small wrapped chocolates allowed him to be the first in the American market, and the small price of a Hershey bar -- once just a nickel -- allowed his business to survive not only in boom times, but also in economic downturns and through the Great Depression.

The most surprising characteristic of Milton Hershey, I found, was his love of gambling -- roulette, betting on horses, and similar pastimes. He liked to go to casinos in Monte Carlo, in Cuba (where he also owned sugar mills and plantations to supply his candy-making), and to horse-racing tracks like Saratoga, N.Y. Author D'Antonio frequently states that Hershey, the competent executive who managed the chocolate factory, lived in a relatively modest home, and did not engage in conspicuous consumption when in Hershey, PA, became a different person when he traveled. Interestingly, Hershey did not gamble with his core business -- in 1929, he was not one of the many people who had gambled by buying stocks on margin. In fact, he seems to have helped out several Hershey Corporate executives who had gambled on the stock market before the bottom dropped out.

In comparison to other great businessmen of the Gilded Age, such as Carnegie and Rockefeller, Hershey stands out because he was fair and generous to his workforce. He donated his great wealth to a charity home for disadvantaged children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the town he built alongside his enormous chocolate factory. It was basically the only idealistic, nearly utopian, town to be truly loved by workers and other inhabitants. The social and economic conditions in which he founded the factory and the town, and ran it as a sort of benevolent dictator for close to 50 years make very interesting reading in this very readable book, which dates from 2006.

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot blogspot.com. 
If you are reading it somewhere else, it's been stolen!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Hershey bar certainly does play an important part in American culture- I remember when it used to cost 20 cents per bar (or maybe it was less)! There is certainly more delicious chocolate around (i.e. Lindt chocolate), but Hershey chocolate will always hold a special place in my heart!

Jeanie said...

I knew nothing about Hershey except his candy so this is really interesting to me. I'm glad he was a good and fair employer.

Pam said...

Interesting about Hershey! I'm not much of a chocolate lover, but the rest of the family loves Hershey candy. I like that Milton loved gambling, I do too! Horses, casinos, poker, whatever! Good to know that he was generous and spread his wealth around. Sounds like a good book, biographies are greatm and just got this one on Amazon! It costs me money about every time I stop by here! 😉
Thanks, Mae, and have a good week!

Mae Travels said...

@Pam -- I'm glad I got you interested in this book and I hope you'll post your impressions after you read it!

best... mae

Pam said...

I will! It might be a short while as I've a couple of others I'm reading right now and then naturally, I would have to post a chocolate recipe...

Beth F said...

He did a lot of good ... we here in PA know quite a lot about him.

judee said...

Hershey Park is a very popular attraction in our area of Pa. I've been there, sampled the chocolate and learned about the man behind it all and how he built up the area. Very interesting post.. thanks

Tina said...

Thats a great review. As BFR mentioned, those of us from Pennsylvania heard a lot about him growing up. Funny how he cut loose when he was away from his business. I too love a good gamble and used to bet in anything from horse races to baseball.

Vicki said...

I love Hershey anything! Lots of info I didn't know, thanks!

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

I have a relative who lives near Hershey and she has told me a lot about how he built up the area. She loves living there.

Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza said...

Very interesting and informative. I lived on the East Coast for almost 10 years and always wanted to visit Hershey but just never got over there. I am a chocolate fanatic although mostly like dark chocolate.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I was just reading an article about Titanic facts you didn't know and it mentioned he bought a VIP ticket but never boarded.