I have to admit I was really impressed with the Hershey Kisses on the lamp posts.
I mean, I heard they existed, but seeing the larger-than-life chocolates — some unwrapped, some shining with a silver coating and displaying a little Kisses plume — cover all the lights in the city of Hershey, Pa. really does give you a sense of wonder.
As a certified candy journalist, I’m almost ashamed to admit that it took me nearly two years to visit Hershey, Pa. But not only was it all I hoped it would be, I think it’s also all Milton Hershey hoped it would be.
I was in the area on a personal trip to Harrisburg, Pa., and I was lucky enough that Jeff Beckman from Hershey was available to show off his company’s favorite city to me and a couple friends.
First things first, because I know you’re all wondering: Yes, I did create my own candy bar at Hershey’s Chocolate World, and yes, it did taste fantastic.
I chose milk chocolate (why mess with the company’s signature base?), filled with raspberry, toffee bits and pretzels. And, in the spirit of a kid in a candy factory, I also decided to cover it with sprinkles. Obviously, if Hershey every decided to mass market that combination of awesome, it would sell by the truckload.
With a royal purple background, I wrote “CRYSTAL’S” in the same font that “HERSHEY’S” is written with on the company’s most famous chocolate bars. I also included the “E. Chocolate Ave. and Cocoa Avenue” lamppost in the bottom corner to give it the “Made in Hershey, Pa.” feel, along with an old-fashioned Hershey logo in the center, and a hot pink “Chocolate Lover’s” tag above my name. I’m pretty sure it was so amazing that the computer system notified the appropriate people and Hershey will call me next time they need a new wrapper design.
I also went on the Hershey tour in Chocolate World (featuring singing cows), got my picture taken in front of all the characters on the Chocolate World sign, and bought some Reese's Peanut Butter lip gloss as a souvenir.
And, if the only legacy Milton Hershey had left behind was a sweet tourism town, that would have been more than enough. But Milton Hershey wanted to leave behind more than that, and lucky for humanity, he did.
Beckman took us to the Milton Hershey School, founded in 1909. Originally intended as a place for boys orphaned as a result of World War I, it has evolved into a boarding school for any child who comes from a difficult background. The students live on site, attend for free, and all of their meals, clothes and lodging are supplied.
Milton and his wife Catherine founded the school at least partly because they were unable to have children themselves, and it continues to be funded by a trust they started.
Hershey, Pa., also has one of the best children’s hospitals in the country, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. But I didn’t have to take Beckman’s word for it. My friend Kathy, whom I was visiting in Harrisburg, told me first-hand how incredible it is. Her granddaughter receives treatment there for juvenile diabetes, and Kathy gushes about how great the staff is and about how happy she is to know that her granddaughter is getting the care she needs so close to home.
Even the mundane buildings in Hershey seem to have Milton’s legacy rooted in them. The large, brown Reese’s factory sits at the edge of town like any other factory in Anytown, USA. But the story behind it highlights what was so special about Milton’s personality.
The famous peanut butter cups were invented by H. B. Reese, who was actually one of Milton’s dairy farmers. As Beckman tells it, Reese caught on to the idea that Milton was making tons of money selling a chocolate bar and he thought he might be able to do the same thing. So, he tinkered around until finally creating the best combination of chocolate and peanut butter ever made.
And then he took the idea to Milton. But even though Hershey loved the product, he wasn’t interested in making the candy. Instead, Hershey told Reese to make it himself so that he could build his own company. He even helped him get the whole thing up and running. The rest, as they say, is sweet history. Of course, The Hershey Co. did end up buying Reese’s eventually, but not until after Reese made his fortune and passed away.
Milton was by no means a perfect man and neither is the company he left behind.
Hershey has come up fire in recent months for alleged use of child labor in the cocoa fields, and, even the school was under scrutiny after refusing to admit an HIV Positive student. But Hershey has since pledged to use 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020 and admitted the student to the school.
And, as I stood by Milton Hershey’s grave, which rests at the top of a hill in a cemetery outside of town, I could see the city he left behind in the distance. And I realized, that for better or for worse, they don’t make candy company presidents like Milton Hershey anymore.