Among the iconic monuments that dot the landscape of industrial achievement in the United States, the five-cent Hershey chocolate bar ranks high. Along with the Ford motor car, Coca Cola, Quaker Oats, and Campbell soups, the Hershey bar has a long history and reflects a great deal about the changing history of the country. Michael D’Antonio is particularly effective in discussing the social and industrial climate in which the Hershey Company originated and prospered. His understanding of the Gilded Age of the latter half of the nineteenth century, of the Panic of 1893, and of other socioeconomic currents that affected the course of both the company and the nation is impressive.
The early life story of Milton Snavely Hershey is one of frustration and failure. The son of Henry Hershey and Victoria “Fanny” Snavely Hershey, Milton was one of two children. Milton’s younger sister, Sarena, born in 1862, contracted scarlet fever in 1867 and succumbed to complications accompanying that disease.
Henry Hershey was a dandy who enjoyed dressing in silk clothing. He constantly hatched get-rich-quick schemes that were doomed to failure from the start. He courted Martha Snavely, nicknamed Mattie, the daughter of a prominent and quite wealthy family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a Mennonite stronghold some fifty miles west of Philadelphia. In time, his interest shifted to Mattie’s sister, Fanny, whom D’Antonio describes as short and round-shouldered.
Something of a free-thinking renegade from the Reformed Mennonite Church, in which her father preached, Fanny married Henry Hershey in 1856. He was attired for the ceremony in a frock coat, striped trousers, a stylish waistcoat, and a high silk hat. Although the pair remained married to each other for the rest of their lives, Henry lived apart from his wife for much of their marriage.
Lancaster was a prosperous city with a brick road reaching clear to Philadelphia. The home of the Conestoga wagon, the precursor of today’s eighteen-wheelers, Lancaster had a brisk trade with Philadelphia, transporting its produce to the city from which it purchased manufactured goods and bundles of cash. The Panic of 1857, however, made serious inroads on Lancaster’s prosperity.
In 1860, when oil was discovered in the village of Titusville, some 250 miles northwest of Lancaster, an oil rush developed reminiscent of the California Gold rush of 1848. Henry quickly moved his family to what became Oil City, where he invested his meager funds in what turned out to be quite unprofitable speculations. Henry, through the years, went from one unproductive scheme to another, so that Fanny eventually distanced herself from him and centered her life on their son, Milton.
Milton, generally called M. S., was in many ways a dreamer like his father, but he also had a substantial dose of his mother’s practicality. His early ventures steered him toward the successful career he eventually established as a candy maker, but the first decade of his candy-making endeavors did not meet with rousing success. They were preceded by an unsuccessful stint in a print shop, embarked upon when he ended his formal education at age twelve.
The first job Milton really liked was making ice cream at the Joseph C. Royer Ice Cream Parlor and Garden. He took great satisfaction in producing something that pleased hordes of enthusiastic customers. Fanny, however, intervened and asked Joseph Royer to engage her son in making hard candy, also produced and sold by Royer’s company, because it has a long shelf life, whereas ice cream had to be consumed almost as soon as it was made.
Hershey’s first independent venture into the candy business occurred when Philadelphia staged the Centennial Exposition of 1876. Despite an national economic downturn, the exposition attracted more than ten million visitors during its six-month run. With financing from his Aunt Mattie, Hershey opened a candy store on Spring Garden Street in a location that those attending the Exposition had to pass as they went from the exposition to Independence Hall and the center of town.
Milton installed a pipe in his shop’s coal chute that infused the air outside the building with the aroma of candy, the scent of which attracted customers in...
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