Milton Hershey was a self-made man. The son of farmers, after a brief stint as a printer, Hershey was apprenticed to a confectioner. He opened the highly successful Lancaster Caramel Company in 1883. In 1900, Hershey sold his company and started another: the Hershey Chocolate Company. By 1907, he had established a factory to mass-produce the chocolates that became a nationwide success. Hershey was now a wealthy man.
However, Hershey did not keep this wealth to himself. His chocolate factory was built in Pennsylvanian dairy farmland, as Hershey required a good supply of milk for his chocolate making. As a result, a town began to grow up around it, named Hershey after the factory and its owner. As Hershey and his wife, Catherine had no children; the couple started to invest their wealth into good works within Hershey town. The couple actively financed many of its public facilities including the Milton Hersey School.
Hershey and his wife had spent the winter of 1911-12 holidaying in the south of France. Catherine’s health was poor, and the couple believed the warm climate of Nice would be beneficial. However, they planned to return to the US in April- and booked passage on the Titanic. The Hershey archives show that on December 18, 1911, a cheque $300 – a 10% deposit on a first-class suite- passed through the Hershey Company accounts. Hershey was said to love a novelty, so the idea of sailing on the ‘unsinkable’ and most luxurious liner of its day must have been irresistible.
However, the Hersheys never boarded. Milton Hershey had been contacted by one of his employees and asked to return from his European trip early so he could attend to some business. So Hershey left Europe three days earlier than planned on the German liner Amerika, therefore missing his chance to experience the wonders of the Titanic- and saving his life. The Amerika turned out to be one of the ships that sent out ice warnings to the Titanic, which followed in its wake.
Hershey had already made provision for the continuation of many of his philanthropic works in his will. However, some would never have been completed if he had died on Titanic– particularly in the town of Hershey, “How the town developed and his support of public education in the community, none of that would have happened,” said Pam Whitenack, Director of Hershey Community Archives.
Another loss to the world of good works was averted when a future Nobel peace prizewinner avoided passage on the doomed liner.