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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams...Review

About the book:
Hershey. The name means chocolate to America and the world, but as Michael D'Antonio reveals, it also stands for an inspiring man and a uniquely successful experiment in community and capitalism that produced a business empire devoted to a higher purpose.


One of the twentieth century's most eccentric and idealistic titans of industry, Milton S. Hershey brought affordable milk chocolate to America, creating and then satisfying the chocoholic urges of millions. He pioneered techniques of branding, mass production, and marketing, and gained widespread fame as the Chocolate King.

But as he developed massive factories, Cuban sugar plantations, and a vacation wonderland called Hershey Park, M.S. never lost sight of a grander goal. Determined that his wealth produce a lasting legacy, he tried to create perfect places where his workers could live, perfect schools for their children, and a perfect charity to salvage the lives of needy children in perpetuity. Along the way, he overcame his personal childhood traumas, as well as the death, after a short and intensely romantic marriage, of the one woman he ever loved.

In childhood, Milton was torn by the constant conflicts between his stern mother and starry-eyed father. He watched his father go bust in the oil fields and his sister die of scarlet fever. As a young man he failed with businesses in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. Milton finally succeeded in Lancaster, thanks to a caramel recipe copied from another confectioner and a lucky break provided by a British importer. Then, at the history-shaping Columbian Exhibition, Milton found the chocolate-making technology that would allow him to bring a new taste to America. When they heard about his plan to build a chocolate empire complete with its own little city in rural Pennsylvania, his friends said he needed a legal guardian.

Ten years later, Milton controlled the U.S. chocolate market, and his town, Hershey, Pennsylvania, was the ideal American village. Factory workers lived in graceful homes. Their children attended the best schools. Local parks, libraries, and theaters rivaled the best in big cities. Trains brought thousands of tourists every day, who flocked to see the miracle town, the Hershey zoo, and an enormous amusement park.

Not content with these accomplishments, a childless M.S. Hershey founded an orphanage for boys at his family homestead. After his wife Catherine's death, the press revealed that he had secretly willed his entire estate to the Hershey Industrial School, as it was called. This was only the beginning of his giving. Through the Great Depression, Milton Hershey used his fortune to fund a massive building program that kept all his workers employed and spared the community the real hardships of the era. Before he died, he even gave away his mansion, keeping just two rooms for himself.

Remarkable as Hershey was, his legacy is even more powerful. It includes the $8 billion Hershey Trust (the single largest private fund for children in the world), an idyllic company town in central Pennsylvania, and a corporation that proves that the ideals of community and commerce can lead to profit.

This first-ever, major biography of an American icon paints a vivid picture of what Milton S. Hershey accomplished as the ultimate progressive businessman. Hershey's life suggests a kind of capitalism that seems warmer, and more personal. He was a gambler, raconteur, despot, and servant. And he stands as a rare, and perhaps unique, example of ambition, altruism, ego, and humility.


A fascinating look at the life of the man who brought chocolate to mainstream America. Milton S. Hershey's life is presented in an interesting, straight-forward manner.

Hershey was raised in poverty as his father, always dreaming of something bigger and better, drifted from place to place. His mother came from a prosperous Mennonite family. Hershey's early business attempts were failures, but he persevered with his mother's family's financial help. The book is as much a history of industry, philanthropy, and business in the late 19th and early 20th century as it is a book about Milton Hershey.

Hershey not only wanted to bring chocolate to the masses, he wanted to create a Utopian society and for a time, seemed to do that in what became known as Hershey, Pennsylvania. He and his wife were unable to have children and he formed a school for orphaned boys that continues to this day.

While not authorized or sponsored by the Hershey company, I found it to be well-written and incredibly well-researched.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 8/08

* * *
3/5 Stars

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