The Chocolate King
Philanthropist and Candy Maker Milton Hershey Believed in Three Things: Chocolate, Children and Cigars
W. Greg Rothman
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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The Hotel Hershey was built during the Great Depression. Overlooking the town, it is magnificent with its marble corridors, royal suites, grandiose fountains and botanical gardens. The gardens overflow with roses, including one created in Kitty's name. As the rest of the country struggled to find jobs, Hershey insisted on putting people to work, breaking ground for the substantial structures of "Chocolatetown, U.S.A." during the depths of the Depression. In addition to the hotel, Hershey ordered built a community center, a senior hall (the present Milton Hershey High School), his administration offices, the Hershey Arena and the Parkview Golf Course Club House, all constructed between 1929 and 1933. Hershey employees never missed a payday. During the construction of the hotel, Hershey often ventured out to the job site (he was always at work before anyone else). On one occasion, the foreman approached Hershey and proudly reported that a newly acquired machine was doing the work of 40 men. "Then get rid of it and get those men back," Hershey commanded.
Hershey continued producing chocolate during the Depression with the intention of maintaining an affordable product that would brighten a discouraged country's day. With the onset of the Second World War, Hershey's staff created non-melting chocolate bars for the military, called Field Ration "D." The D represented "daily," and as the United States entered the war, the Hershey Chocolate Factory was making half a million chocolate bars per day. Arman F. Leo, a highly decorated veteran and native of Dauphin County, has fond memories of the Ration "D" bar: "Sitting alone in a foxhole was the best time to eat the 'D' bar. They seemed to last all night. We gave them out to the children in Africa, Italy and France. We were greeted like Santa Claus." The Hershey name and GI goodwill was spread throughout the world by the Ration "D" bar. Hershey was particularly pleased when the company was given the Army Navy "E" Production Award from the U.S. Government, the first of only five such awards.
Nearly a month and a half after Japan's surrender ended the war, the 88-year-old Hershey died of heart failure on Oct. 13, 1945. He had enjoyed his cigars until the end. His nurse, Elizabeth Rupp, said, "During his later years he must have smoked six to seven Coronas a day." One Hershey intimate recalled, "He was a great smoker. He smoked eight to ten a day until he died. Even at the end, when he knew he had a bad heart, he would smoke four or five a day."
Today, visitors to the town of Hershey are greeted by the tantalizing smell of fresh milk chocolate being produced in the heart of town. Chocolate Avenue remains a quiet yet active commercial main artery, with eclectic architectural tributes to the man who built it. Since 1963, the street has been lined with lights topped with large Hershey Kiss replicas. Each year, thousands of eager tourists make their way through the model factory, "Chocolate World," in mechanized boats that take them through a pictorial journey of the chocolate manufacturing process. Throughout the town, the motto of the Milton Hershey School is repeated: "His deeds are his monument. His life is our inspiration."
Norman Vincent Peale, visiting the town in 1989 to give a speech, was touring the Founder's Hall (the Hershey school auditorium built in 1970) when a teacher asked him if he would take a minute to address his students. With the life-sized bronze statue of Hershey with one of his schoolboys as the backdrop, Peale asked, "How many of you would like to have millions of dollars someday?" The children all raised their hands high in the air. "And, how many of you would, 25 years before you die, give it all away to strangers?" After seeing that not a single hand was raised, Peale looked over his shoulder and said, "Hershey did just that."
Milton Hershey gave away money as freely as he smoked cigars. On Sept. 13, 1995, the 138th anniversary of Hershey's birth (and 50 years after his death), the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a stamp. More than 5,000 children, alumni, Hershey employees and admirers joined Postmaster General Marvin Runyon in officially dedicating the stamp at a ceremony at the Hersheypark Arena. Runyon said of the honoree, "He possessed the one thing sweeter and more pure than even his chocolate--a loving heart." The likeness on the stamp of the walrus-mustached philanthropist was a good one--but it was missing his trademark cigar.
W. Greg Rothman lives outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
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