Hershey, Pennsylvania: Chocolatetown is Born

One Man’s Vision

“A Model Town, a modern factory, a substantial business, these are the realizations of one businessman’s dreams.”

1903 - Construction of the Hershey Chocolate Factory

A vintage photograph of Hershey, PA. Milton Hershey's chocolate company was ten years old by the time the new factory was completed in 1904. The chocolate business grew out of Mr. Hershey's very successful Lancaster, Pennsylvania caramel company. While attending the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Milton Hershey watched a demonstration of German chocolate-making equipment. Mindful of the popularity of his chocolate flavored caramels, Mr. Hershey purchased the machinery and began manufacturing cocoa and chocolate confections. In 1900 he sold his Lancaster caramel company in order to concentrate exclusively on his flourishing chocolate business.

By 1901, Milton Hershey's chocolate business had outgrown his original factory in Lancaster. Mr. Hershey considered sites in Lancaster, Baltimore, New Jersey, and New York for his new factory. In the end, however, he decided to locate the factory in the countryside and chose his birthplace, Derry Township.

Deciding on a Location

Milton Hershey picked rural Derry Township against the advice of friends and business associates. They saw isolation. He saw a ready supply of fresh milk for his chocolate and a steady labor force made up of hardworking Pennsylvania Germans. His advisors saw the tiny town of Derry Church. Mr. Hershey envisioned a complete, new community.

The town quickly emerged, following a plan that had been carefully thought out by Mr. Hershey. Workmen started digging the foundation for the Hershey chocolate factory in early 1903. Before the year was half over, a school and several other key buildings were also underway. In designing his community, Mr. Hershey was influenced by other "manufacturing communities" which were springing up at the turn of the century, both in this country and abroad.

Like other "model towns" Hershey provided its residents with a wholesome environment, modern educational facilities, and affordable housing. What set Hershey apart from similar towns, however, was that Mr. Hershey promoted it as a destination for tourists.

“No expense is being spared…”

The first factory buildings were one story high and covered six acres. The original factory was designed and built to manufacture chocolate in the most efficient way possible. Raw materials, cocoa beans, milk, sugar, were delivered at one end of the factory and processed, emerging at the other end as finished products ready to be transported to market.

The key to the Hershey Chocolate Company's success was the mass production of a few high quality items. The factory manufactured plain and almond milk chocolate bars, KISSES, and breakfast cocoa. By 1910, the company's rapid growth required that the factory be enlarged. For the next 15 years the factory was under almost constant construction as more floors and new buildings were added. To satisfy the company's increasing need for more office space, the Modern Office Building was constructed in 1935.

Telling the World

The announcement of Milton Hershey's plans to build a factory employing 600 men and a town along side it created a great deal of curiosity and interest, both locally and in the business world. As the second largest chocolate company in the United States, "Hershey" was a well-known name.

While ground was being broken for the new factory, newspapers and trade magazines published articles outlining Mr. Hershey's plans for his new factory and town. Hershey encouraged the curiosity and interest in his plans, knowing the benefits of effective publicity.

A Vision of the Future

“We shall soon see the actuality of his intention…improved conditions which work to the good, socially, physically and morally, of all concerned.”

All the services that Milton Hershey considered important were functioning by 1905. He provided for housing, businesses, and schools. The Hershey Improvement Company had been organized to sell lots and construct roads and buildings. Electric, water, and telephone service were provided. The McKinley School was built to replace four one-room schools located in different parts of Derry Township. It provided a modern, centralized educational system for grades one through twelve.

The bank, a general store, a post office as well as boarding rooms for men were all located in the Cocoa House. Rail and trolley lines, laid out to transport workers and raw materials to the factory, also connected Hershey with other towns.

Vintage Arial Photo of Chocolate Factory For the Community

As the factory grew, so did the town and, consequently, the demands on support services. Mr. Hershey responded by providing larger schools, bigger stores, more restaurants, more boarding rooms. He expanded the trolley system and developed the utilities to keep up with the increasing population. In 1914, for example, the original 1905 water system was replaced with a new water source and reservoirs.

Mr. Hershey also encouraged the town's residents to take an active role establishing and supporting services. The Volunteer Fire Company was formed in 1905, the YMCA in 1910, and YWCA in 1911. A variety of literary and social clubs, the Hershey Band and local sports teams were formed. Mr. Hershey supported the local organizations by providing meeting halls, uniforms, and equipment.

Recreation and Culture

As in other "model towns," land was set aside for a park at the very beginning. The Hershey Press noted that nature was a "vital influence for (man's) good."

The centerpiece of Milton Hershey's provisions for recreation and culture was the Community Building. Originally designed in 1914, the building was finally started in 1929 and completed in 1933. It housed the men's club, a gymnasium and pool, a library, bowling alley, and public meeting rooms. The local hospital (1932-45) and the Hershey Junior College (1938-65) were also housed here. For years the building served as the focal point of community activity.

The Hershey Museum, first known as the Indian Museum, was launched in 1933 when Mr. Hershey purchased a large collection of American Indian artifacts. The museum rounded out the town's recreational and cultural opportunities.

A Tourist Attraction

Although originally established for community use, the park soon became a tourist attraction. So did the chocolate factory and the town itself. By 1909, postcards with views of the town were being enclosed in Hershey candy bars. In 1915, the Chocolate Company opened a Visitors Bureau.

The park expanded rapidly, adding amusement rides and a new swimming pool, and enlarging the dance hall. Sunday schools and businesses were solicited to hold their annual picnics there. Every weekend the trolley and railroad advertised special holiday excursions to Hershey.

The community's most impressive tourist attractions were constructed during the town's 1930's building boom. The Depression provided Milton Hershey with the means, a sizeable labor force of unemployed workers, to carry out his large scale building plans. He was able to build at the lowest possible cost while helping the local economy by maintaining full employment.

The construction of the Community Theatre, Hotel, Park, Arena and Stadium transformed Hershey into a major tourist attraction, capable of entertaining thousands of people at a time. By the end of the decade Hershey emerged as a nationally known tourist destination.

The Dream Continues

Since Milton Hershey's death in 1945 tourism has become increasingly important to the Hershey community. Most of the support services originally provided by Mr. Hershey, and managed by Hershey Estates, have been sold to private interests. Hershey Estates, now HERCO, Inc., has concentrated on developing its resorts and recreational facilities. Today, these attractions, as well as the chocolate factory, draw millions of visitors to Hershey each year.

From: Cassidy, Pamela and Harrison, Eliza, One Man's Vision: Hershey, A Model Town. Hershey Museum, 1988.