The Man and His Chocolate
The Chocolate Goddess recognizes that Milton Hershey was truly the founding father of the milk chocolate industry in America. It was both his genius and kindness that has enabled all Americans to enjoy the wonderful taste of milk chocolate.
The road to Hershey Town USA was first paved by caramels. Few people know that Hershey’s initial success was not chocolate but the gooey substance called caramel. Milton was born in the Amish country in Pennsylvania in 1857. As a young boy he had been apprenticed in a sweet shop that made candy and caramels. He even opened a caramel store at the age of 19 but he did not have the funds to maintain it.
With the intention of searching for gold, he joined his father in Colorado but he realized prospecting was not for him so he went to work in a sweet shop. In all Hershey’s experience, paraffin had been added to caramels give it a chewy quality. Milton learned here that by adding milk, they became not only chewy but creamy and tasty as well. Milton absorbed the new technique and brought it back to Lancaster dairy country where in 1886, Hershey established The Lancaster Caramel Company. It became hugely successful and made Hershey a very wealthy man.
When he went to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition he became fascinated with chocolate making equipment from J.M. Lehman Company of Dresden, Germany. This machinery took the cocoa bean from its beginning stages and hulled, roasted, conched, flavored and then molded the liquid chocolate into chocolate bars. The thrill of the procedure and the sweet smell of both chocolate and success intoxicated Hershey. His wealth allowed him to purchase the entire display and he had it shipped back to Lancaster County.
At first Hershey focused on coating his caramels with plain sweetened chocolate. He found that this chocolate could also be molded into shapes. Milton also developed baking chocolate and cocoa and in a short while the company boasted over one hundred products. He loved testing new recipes and making chocolate creations. This was Milton’s passion – experimentation - he wasn’t really interested in the money, but the wonderful products he created sold easily and as the chocolate flowed out, money flowed in.
Hershey entered the chocolate industry in its early stages of development in America. With the exception of Baker’s Chocolate, Guittard and Ghiradhelli Chocolate, who were small companies who produced only dark chocolate, there was no real competition. Milton keenly observed that people craved chocolate and were calmed and satiated by the magic food. He realized it was the future of the candy industry.
Milton Hershey sold his caramel business and took all its proceeds to further formulate and develop chocolate and build a model American town for the workers who would be employed at his chocolate factory. Chocolate had molded a loving caring man and he would have all who worked for him treated kindly and living a wonderful life. He purchased 1,200 acres in the fertile dairy country, for he had a stroke of genius - he realized milk would be the secret ingredient once again.
Hershey had the insight to know that milk would give chocolate a creamier, mellow taste, and if he could make the product less expensive, it would result in widespread appeal. There was the creamy milk chocolate Cadbury bar in England and the smooth Lindt milk chocolate bar in Switzerland but no milk chocolate bar available in America. Milton wanted to give his milk chocolate a distinctive taste and make it affordable to all, not just the wealthy. Ford wanted to put an automobile every driveway in America and Milton Hershey wanted everyone to be able to eat his chocolate.
It was not easy combining water based milk with oil based chocolate. Not being a chemist, it took him years of experimentation to combine the two. He finally hit upon the perfect formula. His process gave the milk a slightly sour taste but combined with the chocolate Milton thought it made the chocolate appealing. Just like buttermilk or sour cream make for an interesting and delicious cake, if one thinks about the Hershey bar while they are eating it, one can notice the slight tang, a kind of sweet and sour.
Europeans did not take to the slightly sour taste of Hershey milk chocolate being used to Cadbury and Lindt. They called him a frugal Pennsylvania Dutchman who did not want to waste sour milk, but Americans know better. Milton Hershey was the most considerate, kind and philanthropic man. He placed the quality of life of his workers first with fine homes at reasonable prices and made sure they had recreational facilities. He established a Hershey Industrial school for orphaned boys, and bestowed it with a trust fund. Hershey also inaugurated a foundation that provided both cultural and educational opportunities for the people of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The list goes on and on.
Milton launched the bar in 1900 in a chocolate brown and silver wrapper that proclaimed chocolate as a nourishing food and Americans fell in love with it. Not only was it delicious chocolate but it was just a nickel. The Hershey milk chocolate bar gained popularity nationally. Hershey bars were on every counter top in pharmacies, restaurants, grocery stores, five and ten stores and newsstands. In 1905 the huge Hershey factory opened and thousands of the bars rolled out on the assembly line each day.
The Hershey bar has been the favorite reward bestowed on us since we were children. The Chocolate Goddess recognizes that the sweet satiating taste of the Hershey chocolate always brings comfort and joy. There is something soothing about giving in to your inner child and enjoying a bar of chocolate without guilt. Even the mere glimpse of the wrapper quickly conjures up thoughts of happiness. Let us not take for granted the years of work, planning and the generosity of Milton Hershey, for he is truly every Americans’ Sweetheart!
-Barbara Esatto, The Chocolate Goddess