A Pattern of Failure
Life did not start out easily for Milton S. Hershey. He only made it to fourth-grade before he had to quit school and support his family on the farm in Pennsylvania. Apprenticed to a printer at age 14, he was fired for accidentally dropping his hat into one of the printing machines.
His mother arranged for him to learn the candy-making trade. After a four-year apprenticeship, he moved to Philadelphia to start his first business. It failed. He launched a second business in New York. It went bankrupt in three years.
He returned home to try again, starting the Lancaster Caramel Company. This time he used a new recipe to make caramel with fresh milk. This time he succeeded, eventually employing over 1,300 workers in two factories. Still, he wasn’t satisfied; he worried that caramel was a fad that would soon die out.
Building on his success using fresh milk in his caramels, he developed a formula for milk chocolate. Betting his future on it, he sold the caramel company, bought acres of dairy land near his birthplace, and produced the first Hershey bar in 1900. Hershey Kisses and a Hershey Bar with Almonds soon followed, as Hershey rapidly grew to became the largest candy company in the world.
But being biggest and best wasn’t the only thing that was important to him.
Building a Town and a Legacy
Throughout his business career, he developed a reputation for not only insisting on a high-quality product, but also taking care of his employees. When the Great Depression hit, while other companies were laying off workers, he launched a Great Building Campaign to provide jobs and bolster the local economy. Ultimately he built the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, which included a community building, theater, and hotel.
One day, as he watched two massive steam shovels break ground for the future Hershey Hotel, his foreman boasted to him, “These machines do the work of 40 men.” Hershey’s response is worth remembering:
“Take them off. Hire 40 men.”
Providing jobs for the people of his town was more important to him than saving a few dollars. He took pride in the fact that he did not lay anyone off, or cut any salaries due to the depression. When conditions became difficult, his default was to help the people around him.
The Hershey legacy lives on. Unable to have children of his own, he started an orphanage and school. The Milton Hershey School continues to provide cost-free, private, co-educational homes and schooling for children from low-income families. Before his death, he gave nearly his entire forturne to the Hershey Trust. In 1963, $50 million of that money went to fund the Penn State Hershey Medical School, which remains one of the premier teaching hospitals in the United States.
Hire 40 Men – The Takeaway
In front of the Milton Hershey School there is a bronze statue of Hershey, with his hand on the shoulder of an orphan boy. Below the statue are engraved ten more words worth taking to heart.
“His deeds are his monument. His life is our inspiration.”
Long after he died, his good works continue to make lives better for others. His story and example leave us with two important questions about our own legacies:
If we were to pass away in our sleep tonight, what would we want people to write on our monument tomorrow?
And what can we do about that today?
Interesting Note: During World War II, Hershey supplied the Ration D chocolate bar for the U.S. Armed Forces in the tropics. His bar had to meet four specifications: it had to weigh about four ounces, withstand elevated temperatures, and be high in energy value. The final stipulation? As an emergency ration, It had to have an unpleasant-enough flavor to prevent the troops from developing cravings for them and raiding the emergency supplies. As the quartermaster representative phrased it, the bar should taste just “a little bit better than a boiled potato.” As a veteran myself, that explains a lot…