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Currently browsing Abraham Snavely

Accession 200608: Snavely Family Papers

While the Archives is best known for managing the archival records of Milton Hershey’s corporations, we also collect and care for the records of  many individuals and local organizations.  The finding aids for these collections are available online on the Archives’ website:


These collections contain a wealth of materials documenting many different aspects of Hershey’s past.


Milton Hershey, 1887

Milton Hershey, 1887


There are very few materials that shed light on Milton Hershey’s early adult years. Milton Hershey spent his early adult years struggling to make a living. While his life and accomplishments are well documented once he achieved business success, little remains to tell the story of those early years.


We are very fortunate that the Snavely Family papers are part of the Archives’ collection.  This collection includes several letters from Milton Hershey to his Uncle Abraham Snavely, written between 1880 and 1882.


Sometimes personal letters paint a different picture than the one presented in published sources.


In 1894, Lancaster County (PA) published the Portrait and Biographical Record of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens. . .Together with Biographies and Portraits of All the Presidents of the United States.


I’m not certain who was responsible for researching and writing the brief biography of Milton Hershey. The entry begins with a brief genealogy, since both of his parents were born and raised in Lancaster County. The entry then continues:


 In 1876 our subject went to Philadelphia, where he engaged in the manufacture of confectionery, and there continued six years, after which he traveled in different states in the Union, and finally engaged in business in New York as a caramel manufacturer. He deemed it wise to remove his plant to Lancaster, where he has increased his business and employs a large number of men.


If this was the only documentation that existed for Milton Hershey’s early business years, we might have a very different understanding of his early life.


Business card; 1879-5/1881

Business card; 1879-5/1881

Business card; 1879-5/1881

Business card; 1879-5/1881



Fortunately for the historian, the Snavely Family Papers provides a slightly different view of those early years. As the finding aid notes, the collection is:


Largely comprised of correspondence and land records. The correspondence contains several hand written letters from Milton S. Hershey to his uncle, Abraham B. Snavely, requesting financial assistance.


The letters were written between 1880 and 1882, during the time that Milton Hershey operated a candy shop in Philadelphia. The letters reveal that Milton Hershey’s business was struggling at that time, and cash flow was not sufficient to support the business. Hershey turned to his Snavely relatives for financial loans, unfortunately, without much success. You can read more about these struggles here.


Interested in learning more? Visit the Archives and review all of the letters in the collection to gain a better understanding of Milton Hershey’s early business struggles.

HersheyArchives@30 – 1 Where would we be without family?

This is part of a series celebrating the 30th anniversary of Hershey Community Archives by highlighting 30 items from the collection.


Letter: Milton Hershey to his Uncle Abraham Snavely, 1/13/1882

Letter: Milton Hershey to his Uncle Abraham Snavely, 1/13/1882


While Hershey’s Milk Chocolate is an iconic symbol of the United States, its creator, Milton Hershey, is less well-known.  And even if you know that Milton Hershey built a town and funded a school for disadvantaged children with the profits from that chocolate bar, you may not know that Milton Hershey came by his success the hard way:  he tried and failed and tried again until he achieved success.


It is very easy to overlook or dismiss the years of struggle when someone like Milton Hershey ultimately achieves such tremendous success.  Fortunately, the Archives holds evidence of his struggles and his early failures.  These artifacts help us to better understand Milton Hershey and the events that shaped him.


Milton Hershey's first business card.  ca.1876

Milton Hershey’s first business card. ca.1876


Milton Hershey opened his first confectionery shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876. He was 18 years old. The business got off to a good start, sales buoyed by the crowds who flocked to Philadelphia to visit the Centennial Exposition.


Business grew and a few years later, needing more space, Milton Hershey moved his shop down the street to larger quarters at 925 & 927 Spring Garden Street and operated a wholesale business from 532 Linden Street (just around the corner). But by 1880 the business was beginning to falter.


The Archives holds several  letters from Milton Hershey to his Uncle Abraham Snavely that were written between December 1880 and January 1882.  Each letter is much like the same, pleas for loans of money or requests for patience because Milton Hershey has not repaid the previous loans.  The Archives does not hold any letters from Uncle Abraham.  We can imagine that as Milton Hershey continued to beg for more and more financial support, Abraham became exasperated and disillusioned with his nephew.  Milton’s last letters to his Uncle indicate that Abraham Snavely was dragging his feet (and wallet) about sending any more money.


The last letter in the Archives’ collection suggests just how desperate Milton Hershey had become.


Letter: Milton Hershey to his Uncle Christian Snavely, 1/13/1882

Letter: Milton Hershey to his Uncle Christian Snavely, 1/13/1882




Office of




 Sole Manufacturer of the Celebrated H.H. Cough Drops

 1217 TO 1225 BEACH ST.,


                                                                                                              Philadelphia, Jan 13, 1882

Dear Uncle

You letter of the 12 inst

at hand , and I canot do anny longer than

Tuesday 17th or aunt Martha will have to come

up so do try to save her the trouble as she wishes

to stay a few weeks longer I Paid the note of

wisemans & Mcgill but it made me so short I can

[n]ot Pay my Bills. And Martha would of come up

then but she thought You would do this much for the

last time. So do Possitively send it by

Tuesday 17inst if I would of [if I] not had father

to Pay the 350.00 I would not of had to trouble

You or Martha and she was Perfectly willing

that I got Clear of him and I feel better my-


Your Truly,


Aunt Martha wish to [k]now if you Recd that

Pacye of h?? Tr J.Ohoh at Lancaster


The letter’s reference to having to pay his father reveals another layer to Milton Hershey’s financial struggles. Henry Hershey had arrived to “help” his son in in late 1880. Full of ideas and vision, Henry designed a candy display cabinet (pictured on Milton Hershey’s stationery letterhead) that Henry was certain would benefit his son’s business.


Milton’s mother and his Aunt Mattie were not pleased with Henry Hershey’s involvement with the business. The women viewed him as a distraction and a disruption. They urged Milton to pay his father for the candy cabinet so that his father would leave Philadelphia. Yet Milton didn’t have enough money to invest in another venture.  While he agreed to pay his father, that payment was the final blow to Milton Hershey’s first candy business.


After struggling for six years to make his first business a success, Milton Hershey closed his shop in the spring of 1882. While the end of this business was not a happy conclusion, Milton Hershey learned many lessons about supply and demand, credit, cash flow and the importance of limiting your product line. These were all lessons that he would put to use more profitably in future business ventures.