If there’s a single person who left the most indelible impression on the history of Dauphin County, you could argue that it’s Milton Hershey. Born in 1857 in Derry Township, Hershey would grow up to run one of the world’s largest companies and literally put his name on the map.
However, Hershey didn’t come by his fortune the easy way. Growing up in a poor farming family, Hershey only completed the 4th grade before having to work full-time. Starting at the age of 19, Hershey moved around as he honed his confectionary skills, starting and failing at two different businesses and working for several more.
It wasn’t until he returned to the area at the age of 30 that he finally had success in the candy business. His caramel company, the Lancaster Caramel Company was a rousing success thanks to the skills for candy making and business that Hershey had learned since he opened his first company in Philadelphia 11 years prior.
However, not one to rest on his laurels, Hershey sold his caramel company after 13 years and decided to focus on making chocolates. And, in 1900, Hershey made the first of many Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.
Since then, the Hershey Company has become the largest chocolate manufacture in North America and is still headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Over the years, the number of products that the company makes has continued to increase, and the company’s story and the legacy of Milton Hershey continues to fascinate many.
It is this history, that The Hershey Story keeps alive. Located in the heart of downtown Hershey, the town that sprang to life around the company’s factory, The Hershey Story features displays spanning the 150+ years since the birth of Milton Hershey.
Entrance to The Hershey Story is through a rather grand lobby on the ground floor, but most of the museum is on the second floor of the building. The museum itself covers three different topics related to the story of Hershey.
The first area talks about Milton Hershey and his life and legacy. Hershey made a fortune, much of which he pumped back into his growing business. However, when he died, he left all of his money to The Hershey Foundation, a non-profit organization that he founded to help underprivileged children. His legacy still lives on in the Milton Hershey School that sits on a hill above the town and provides quality education to disadvantaged students.
The Hershey Story also features many interesting items from Milton Hershey’s life. One piece to make sure not to miss is his unused ticket for the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Hershey’s life was almost certainly saved when business in Europe necessitated that he take a different ship back to America in April 1912.
The museum also has information about the history of the Hershey Company. Featuring many interesting advertising displays from the past, as well as information and displays about how the chocolate is made, the museum provides a good overview of the company’s history without being overly promotional.
The museum also features information about the town of Hershey that grew up around the factory, and how the town grew from a rural farming area to one of Pennsylvania’s tourist draws. However, in many ways, it’s difficult to tell this area apart from the information about the company because the two are so intertwined.
Downstairs, there are several interactive areas for kids, including a mini-factory where they can pretend to make chocolate.
For kids and adults alike who want to make real chocolate, there is the Chocolate Lab. In this 45-minute session, you can make your own chocolate bar, complete with a variety of interesting inclusions. The instructor leads you through all the steps to making your chocolate bar in a process that reminded me somewhat of making my ice cream at the Turkey Hill Experience.
While it might not produce quite as nice a finished product as the Create Your Own Candy Bar at the nearby Hershey’s Chocolate World, if you want to learn about the history of Milton Hershey and the Hershey company while doing a fun activity, the Chocolate Lab is certainly a worthwhile place to visit.
However, for those looking to try something unique, the Country of Origin Chocolate Tastings offer a great way to sample the different varieties of chocolate in their purest form. The samples of liquid chocolate that you are given are single-source and very high quality samples from all around the world. I really found it amazing how much of a difference I could really tell.
It’s worth noting, that the size of one sample is more than enough to split between two people, and the bitterness of the pure chocolate might not be a favorite of children.
Overall, The Hershey Story is an interesting stop for anyone looking to understand the history of Milton Hershey, and the company, town, and legacy that he built. The museum can be a bit confusing to visit, as there is no defined path for going through it. While you eventually get used to the lack of direction, it can make seeing everything a bit daunting.
It’s also worth noting that while there are activities in the museum for kids, this is more of a history museum that an interactive space for children. Although they do have some areas that kids would enjoy, Hershey’s Chocolate World offers some of the same experiences in a more kid-friendly way.
If you are interested in the history of the region, company, and man, however, there is no better spot to visit in Hershey. It’s also worth visiting simply to try the Country of Origin Chocolate Tasting that can be had at The Hershey Story’s café and getting a combo ticket to visit the nearby Hershey Gardens.
Note: My visit to The Hershey Story was hosted by the Hershey Harrisburg Visitor’s Bureau. However, the opinions expressed in this article are my own.
The Hershey Story
Hours: Hours vary, please see website for current hours
Cost: Adults: $16.50, Children: $12.50
Address: 63 West Chocolate Avenue