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Hershey Improvement Company: Build or Buy a Home in Hershey

Beginning construction for the Hershey Chocolate factory, 1903

Beginning construction for the Hershey Chocolate factory, 1903

 

In 1903, when Milton Hershey broke ground for the Hershey Chocolate factory in Derry Township his plans far exceeded the construction of one building. Mr. Hershey envisioned the development of a new community; a community that featured modern facilities and residences with the objective of being an “ideal twentieth century town.”[i]

 

Hershey Improvement Company, an unincorporated organization that operated under the auspices of the Hershey Chocolate Company, was responsible for building the infrastructure for Mr. Hershey’s model industrial town. The Improvement Company laid out roads, sidewalks, and all of the utilities including: water, sewer, electric, and gas. The company oversaw the construction of public buildings and homes as well as all real estate transactions.

 

Surveyors with Herr’s Engineers. ca.1910-1912

Surveyors with Herr’s Engineers. ca.1910-1912

 

Potential residents had the choice of purchasing a lot from the Improvement Company and building their own home or purchasing a home constructed by the company. Between 1911 and 1915, the company constructed 150 homes. The benefits and convenience of indoor plumbing and electricity were advertised to homeowners however an emphasis was placed on the community’s amenities.

 

“It is the town of health; it is a paradise for children. Its great public school with everything free is a wonderful asset. It has free libraries, playgrounds, gymnasiums, clubs and all the merits of a place many times its size. These give value that mean dollars and cents to the home investment. The man who buys or builds a home not only gets the full value of that property but the additional value of the town improvement and equipment.” Hershey Press, Advertisement, 11/5/1914.

 

Areba Avenue looking east from Cocoa Avenue. 1912-1915

Areba Avenue looking east from Cocoa Avenue. 1912-1915

 

The company’s investment in the community’s infrastructure was the homeowner’s advantage. This idea exemplified the progressive ideal of capitalism and wealth being used to raise the standard of living for all.

 

The economic value of home-ownership, to the individual, was also emphasized in the Improvement Company’s real estate advertisements. “Property owners in Hershey are enabled to sell their property, if they so desire, making quick sales, and selling at a considerable price over their original investment….We can cite you several instances of property holders in Hershey that have sold their properties recently and pocketed a nice profit.” In this respect, Hershey’s model industrial community was unlike those that preceded it.

 

Hershey Press advertisement promoting the benefits of homeownership. 11/02/1911]

Hershey Press; advertisement promoting the benefits of home-ownership. 11/02/1911

 

For comparison, consider another celebrated company town, Pullman, Illinois.

 

In 1881, the first residents moved into Pullman, Illinois, a community just outside of Chicago founded by railroad car manufacturer George M. Pullman. Pullman was considered to be an ideal town that offered many of the amenities that would later be available in Hershey, Pennsylvania. An important difference between the two communities was home ownership.

 

In Pullman, residents were unable to buy their homes, they could only rent. Following the economic depression of 1893, the Pullman Company laid off workers and reduced wages but refused to lower rents. Workers went on strike and the community became associated with industrial strife, far short of the ideal. By 1900, the municipal functions of the community had been assumed by the city of Chicago.[i]

 

It is likely Milton Hershey was aware of the downfall of Pullman and planned and organized his businesses and community with these lessons in mind. He planned for a model industrial community that would remain an ideal.  “Hershey’s future is clearly established….Hershey is the model industrial town that is developing into the model home town, and in the course of another decade it will attract thousands of people.”[iii]

 

Hershey Press advertisement. 11/09/1911

Hershey Press; Hershey Improvement Company advertisement. 11/09/1911

 

Hershey Improvement Company continued to oversee the development and expansion of the Hershey community until Hershey Chocolate Company was reorganized in 1927. After the reorganization, responsibility for the management and development of the community’s infrastructure was placed under the newly created Hershey Estates.

 

[i]“Big Building Boom in the Chocolate Town.” Hershey Press, 31 August 1911.

[ii] Green, Hardy. The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy.  Basic Books: New York, 2010.

[iii] “Advertisement.” Hershey Press, 5 November 1914.

 

Surveying Hershey

Last January (2011) the Archives received a collection of 226 field survey books created over the course of 70 years as Hershey engineering crews surveyed newly acquired land and recorded plans for bridges, roads, trolley lines, buildings and residential lots.  Beginning with the first entry, dated June 22, 1902, the books document the development of the Hershey community as Milton Hershey planned and built his model town.

 field-survey-book-cover-thb

 

Within the books’ pages, you can trace the route of Hershey’s trolley system and see through whose property the trolley lines passed, see the footprint of the new chocolate factory and how it was placed on the designated land, follow the evolution of Hershey Park, the development of Hershey’s residential streets and lots, and see how the town grew and evolved.

 

 

 

The Archives exhibit case in The Hershey Story lobby highlights materials from its collections.

The Archives exhibit case in The Hershey Story lobby highlights materials from its collections.

 

 

 

In the Archives’ changing exhibit case located in the lobby of The Hershey Story, a new exhibit features four of the field survey books and connects the information in the books with other archival records to tell a story of Hershey’s past.  Here’s an example from the exhibit:

 

 

 

Drawing of new Hershey Chocolate Company smokestack, 1924.  Field Survey book #33, p. 142

Drawing of new Hershey Chocolate Company smokestack, 1924. Field Survey book #33, p. 142

 

 

 

Hershey Chocolate factory expanded frequently to meet the growing demand for Hershey’s milk chocolate.  An article in the Hershey Press noted the chocolate factory’s need for new power. 

 

Hershey Chocolate Company, plan for new smokestack, 5/19/1924

Hershey Chocolate Company, plan for new smokestack. 5/19/1924

 

 

In 1924 the engineering department drew up plans for the new powerplant including plans for a new smokestack.  Later that year the powerhouse was enlarged with five new boilers and a new yellow-brick smokestack to meet increased demands for power to run the factory.   Like Hershey Chocolate Company’s other smokestacks, plans called for “HERSHEY” to be spelled out in darker bricks.

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by The Hershey Story and check out the Archives exhibit case to see more examples from the Field Survey Book collection.  It will be up through March 2012.