Milton Hershey didn’t set out to leave a legacy.
Not at first. He was just trying to be successful.
More specifically, he was trying to be more successful than his father. A man who couldn’t stop dreaming about being successful — while not actually able to pull it off.
Milton was the product of a broken home when broken homes were non-existent.
His mother, Fanny, fell in love with Henry Hershey because of his big ideas and his dreams of grandeur.
It didn’t take long before she realized that Henry Hershey was full of good intentions and little follow through.
Eventually, the good intentions wore off too and Henry left, leaving behind his wife and two children.
Milton moved around a lot as a child.
And although he wasn’t an orphan, because his mother spoiled him with love and attention, especially after his sister died, he oftentimes felt alone. And lost.
He inherited his father’s propensity to dream big dreams. And when he was old enough to work, his mother encouraged him to get a practical job.
Work that would make a difference in people’s lives. A job that mattered. Maybe something in the food industry.
When he found a job at the confectionery, he knew it was a perfect fit.
He learned how to make candy before the days of thermometers and perfect temperatures.
Milton had a knack for knowing when the sugar mixture was bubbling at exactly the right temp to be removed for whatever candy was in the making.
He was so good at learning how to make candy that he eventually started making it on his own.
His mom’s sister, Aunt Mattie, was Milton’s biggest supporter. Their family had money — so it was no big deal for them to offer financial support whenever he needed it. At least for a while.
Milton’s first endeavor in candy was in Philadelphia.
He worked five years trying to make his shop a success. But ultimately, he failed and left for Colorado — where he got a job at another candy shop.
It was there that he figured out how to make a creamy caramel that wouldn’t spoil quickly. After a couple of years in Denver refining his recipe, he left to travel to the big city of Chicago — and finally ended up in New York City.
In the roughest, toughest part of the city — Hell’s Kitchen. He was surrounded by every “low life” in the area. Even the police wouldn’t police his neighborhood. It was too much trouble.
Milton was determined to make a living with his new candy company. And he did for a while.
But his cart was continuously robbed by local hoodlums. Driving him again towards bankruptcy.
Packing whatever he could salvage of his equipment onto the next train bound for Lancaster, he was utterly defeated. Penniless.
It would be some time later before he could claim that equipment — as he had to borrow money from a friend to get his packages released to him.
He had asked his favorite Aunt for money once again — but this time, they refused. They saw too much of Milton’s father in him to confidently invest another penny.
He was a loser. A talker. A dreamer. Someone who couldn’t seem to get it all together.
But Milton refused to be discouraged. He knew that he was on to something with his special caramel recipe. And he refused to go away quietly.
Using his Aunt’s good name, he was able to acquire a loan from the bank to get him started on his third business. One he desperately hoped would not fail like the other two.
The agony of his past defeats haunted him.
Milton had learned from his mistakes. And despite his lack of formal education and quitting school at age 12, he found that life itself was the most valuable teacher.
He started small and worked his way up to hiring employees. He spent all of his time on building his business.
And after a few rough patches, Milton’s business, Lancaster Caramel was starting to look like a success.
Within a few years, Milton had a booming business to the tune of 1,300 employees. More than he had ever imagined. His caramels were being exported around the world. All the way to England.
Although Milton was content in his caramel haven, he was always looking for the next best thing.
In 1893, Milton took off to Chicago for the World’s Fair. It was there that Milton discovered a machine used to make chocolate.
Immediately Milton had a new dream.
See, in those days of the early 1890’s, chocolate was somewhat of a fairy tales. Only the wealthy could afford it — but it was a treat young Milton thoroughly enjoyed.
Once his mind got set on creating chocolate, that was all he could think about.
Until he met Kitty Sweeney.
An Irish gal fifteen years his junior, Kitty was happiness and sunshine incarnate. She bubbled with excitement over the smallest of things. And her excitement was contagious. Especially to Milton.
He wanted to be around her all the time and he wanted her happiness around him forever. And so he married her. And promised to give her the life she deserved. And he promised to make her always smile the same way she made him smile.
It was romance and fulfillment. Everything he had ever imagined.
He sold his successful caramel company to investors for $1 million. And bought land to start building his chocolate factory.
He situated it in the middle of a little Pennsylvania town called Derry Township.
But his big idea didn’t stop with a chocolate factory.
In fact, the more he thought about his sweet plan, the more his idea just kept growing. He told his engineers draw up plans to build a whole city around the chocolate factory.
The original plans only had streets. Milton later added the houses.
He knew he would have to hire people to work in his new chocolate factory. So along with trying to perfect a smooth milk chocolate that was affordable to everyday workers, he was working on developing a close-knit community that would foster the ideals that Milton so strongly believed in: living wages, suitable housing, proper education, and a family for everyone.
In a bit of silliness, he had his team name the streets after sweet treats and other confectionery ingredients.
He situated the houses the proper distance from the road and the proper distance from each other to keep the neighbors comfortable yet neighborly.
He fought local government leaders to ensure that his newly built town had all the necessities of any other town.
He fought for a post office. He fought for a railroad station. He fought for a bank. He even opened a department store.
Because what town is complete without a large, brightly lit place to shop?
He donated land for churches to be built upon. And changed the landscape of a rural Pennsylvania town.
And in his honor, the town was renamed Hershey, Pennsylvania.
And then, he finally built a home for his wife. Something that she had patiently been waiting for. A place where they could start a family of their own.
But that was not to be.
His beautiful bride, Kitty, was unable to bear children. Milton would never have any offspring.
But instead of letting that get to him, he decided he would have hundreds of sons.
He opened The Hershey Industrial School for orphaned boys. It was a home where children would come to live.
They would have adults that took care of them. Stand-ins for the parents that they lost. The school was Milton’s proudest achievement. More so than the creamy smooth milk chocolate he perfected.
He loved each of those boys as if they were his own. And as they kept growing, Milton kept building.
He opened an amusement park: Hershey Park. He opened an open-air theater that he was sure was blessed by God because during its opening year, it didn’t rain once on theatergoers.
But he was to be tested again.
Suddenly, Kitty died. Milton had lost his joy and sunshine. Without warning or expectation.
That knocked him down — but it didn’t knock him out.
He doubled down on his business focus. Developing a sugar economy in Cuba to feed his chocolate plant. He built a town and schools, housing and medical facilities
Thirty miles outside of Havana, a little town called Hershey Cuba blossomed.
And again — despite his focus, forces outside his control would test his dedication to excellence.
When he returned from Cuba after years of profitable work, the United States was in the middle of an economic downturn.
It was the beginning of the Great Depression and people were struggling.
Instead of backing off and laying low until things started to look up, Milton decided to build a 150 room hotel. He built it on a hill overlooking his chocolate factory and the city that surrounded it.
When he was told that the machinery they had brought in did the work of forty men, Milton quickly told them to get rid of the machines. He knew forty men who needed work. And that is how his hotel was built.
That is how people in his little Pennsylvania town made it through the great depression.
Milton Hershey is the reason no one starved.
Milton lived to see his 80th birthday, but he did not make it to see his 81st. He died of pneumonia and was buried in the Hershey cemetery alongside his parents and his beloved wife.
Out of all of his accomplishments, he is proud of the school for orphans he started that is still up and running today.
Now for boys and girls.
His chocolate is probably sitting in a bowl on your desk. And the little town he created that changed the lives of thousands is still the peaceful, charming place Milton built it to be.
Despite the setbacks of love and loss, bankruptcy, theft, bullying, and beatdowns — he persisted. His dad left him. His mom was unable to support him on her own.
He tried and failed — and failed again. In the end, he believed his destiny into existence.
You don’t have to build your own city or start your own empire of sweet treats to impact those around you for the long term.
What you do and who you are have a direct impact on everyone around you. Everyone you ever meet.
That’s the power you have right now. You are going to face setbacks and look failure full in the face. You are going to have to push past fear and chaos and frustration.
But if you can and do — the world around you changes. You did that. Your mindset. Your mission. Your magic.
Just don’t imagine that progress is free or easy or guaranteed. The price is high for changing the world. But so worth it.
The choice is yours.