The name “Hershey” is one of the most recognizable names in history. It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t eaten one of their products or at least heard of them.
I came across Michael D’Antonio’s biography of Milton S. Hershey, called Hershey; Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams. And since I’m someone who loves both chocolate and history, it was irresistible.
As expected, the book covers Milton’s early life and leads to what he accomplished during it. Milton was an amazing guy — he must have been a huge ball of energy in life. He started out with creating a caramel company and was later inspired to switch over to chocolate in 1893, after seeing exhibits from chocolate makers at the Centennial Exposition in Chicago.
Milton married a woman called Catherine Sweeney (“Kitty”) in 1898. They traveled extensively to different parts of the world: Milton would gather business ideas and Kitty would shop and collect beautiful things. They were much alike — according to the author, they held similar philosophies about life. She liked to laugh and tease her husband.
Kitty had locomotor ataxia, a spinal disease that made it difficult for her to walk. Some of their trips involved getting treatment for her.
The book discusses Hershey’s business sense and philanthropy. He and Kitty couldn’t have children of their own, so Milton decided to found a school for low-income boys who needed the help. The school is still in existence today and helped large numbers of people. Over time, the policies changed and girls are now admitted as well.
But it didn’t stop there: Milton founded the utopian town of Hershey, with homes and various amenities for his employees. He was different from other millionaires from his time in that quite a bit of his wealth was spent helping others and he left behind quite a legacy that still influences people today. I liked that about him.
The book has some great stories. I won’t reveal all of them here, but there is one bit that will interest Titanic fans. Milton had booked passage in a first-class cabin on the Titanic, but for business reasons, he had to leave three days early and crossed the Atlantic on the America instead.
I wonder what would have happened otherwise, if he had sailed on the Titanic. The history of chocolate in this country would have been profoundly affected, to be sure. I also wonder what Milton and Kitty thought when they heard what happened to the Titanic.
Milton was quite the storyteller, according to the book. It would have been fun to sit down and listen to him.
If you’re interested in the history of one of the biggest names in chocolate and American history, you’ll really enjoy the book. It also has some photographs worth checking out. Have fun.