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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.


Building to Impress: A New Home for the Hershey Trust Company

New Year.  New Exhibit.  I’ve just mounted a new display in the Archives’ exhibit case in the Grand Lobby of The Hershey Story.  This time the exhibit takes a look at building a new building for Hershey Trust Company.


Once Milton Hershey set his mind to something, he moved quickly and decisively.  And building a town for his new chocolate factory was no exception.  During the town’s first thirteen years, construction was constant as buildings went up, were enlarged and even replaced as the town grew.  The reason, of course, was because Hershey’s chocolate business was booming and the town needed to grow to accommodate the growing numbers of workers being hired for the chocolate factory.


View of Hershey from the chocolate factory smokestack.  ca1906-1909

View of Hershey from the chocolate factory smokestack. ca1906-1909


Hershey, of course, was much more than the chocolate factory.  Milton Hershey established a wide variety of businesses to serve the town.  Hershey Trust Company, the town’s first bank, opened in 1905.  By 1910, the trust company’s business was outgrowing its original home.  Milton Hershey asked noted Lancaster architect, C. Emlen Urban, to design a building appropriate for the town’s financial institution.  His design for the new building incorporated classical elements to reflect the importance of its primary occupant.


Titzel Construction Company construction crew stands in front of the future Hershey Trust Company.  1913

Titzel Construction Company construction crew stands in front of the future Hershey Trust Company. 1913


On August 20, 1912, workers broke ground for a new bank building at the intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Avenues.  Various construction setbacks delayed the completion of the building for almost a year.  The building finally opened in the summer of 1914.


Archival collections hold many documents that trace the path and delays of construction.  If you’re in town, stop in and check out the new exhibit.

Things old are new again: Hershey’s Modern Office Building

Hershey Chocolate Corporation Modern Office Building, 1935

Hershey Chocolate Corporation Modern Office Building, 1935


People who regularly drive through Hershey on Rt. 422 (Chocolate Avenue) have noticed all the construction and reconstruction taking place at the original chocolate factory.  Included in this project is construction work being done to the building at 19 East Chocolate Avenue, a structure also known as the Windowless or Modern Office Building.  Completed in 1935, this building served as the corporate headquarters for Hershey Chocolate for over forty years.  Today, this building is the heart of The Hershey Company’s operational offices.


When the building was constructed, much of the world was struggling under the financial stress of the Great Depression. Jobs were lost as businesses retrenched.  In Hershey, there was a different experience.  Milton Hershey responded to the economic upheaval with a construction program.  During the 1930s, many of Hershey’s monumental structures were built, including Hotel Hershey, Milton Hershey School’s Catherine Hall (then the Junior-Senior High School), the Community Building (14E), Hershey Sports Arena and the Modern Office Building for the Hershey Chocolate Corporation.


Milton Hershey’s great interest in innovation and experimentation shaped the design of this new office building.


Original plans for the building called for a conventional design with windows and awnings.  As the foundation was being dug, Milton Hershey became intrigued with the idea of a windowless facility.  Such a design would dramatically increase the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems.  At Mr. Hershey’s direction, architect/builder D. Paul Witmer, quickly drew up new plans and construction continued without any delay.


Under construction:  Hershey's Modern Office Building.  1935

Under construction: Hershey’s Modern Office Building. 1935


The building was constructed of locally quarried limestone.  Construction began in the fall of 1934 and was completed in December 1935.


The building was a real testament to Hershey skills and ingenuity.  The building was designed and built by the Hershey Lumber Company (Paul Witmer serving as its manager).  Certain interior building products were installed by the Hershey Department Store.


There was quite a bit of excitement regarding the opening of the new office building.  Hershey Chocolate Corporation hosted a public open house on December 28, 1935.  Almost 14,000 people attended during the day long event.  The Hotel Hershey Highlights noted that the open house commenced at 9:00 a.m. and doors didn’t close until 9:00 p.m.


Printed for the building's open house, the booklet described many of the bulding's unique features.  1935

Printed for the building’s open house, the booklet described many of the bulding’s unique features. 1935


Visitors received a booklet, printed by the chocolate factory print shop, describing the building’s special features.  In particular, the booklet described the building’s interior plan, its atmosphere:

“Conditioned air, dust free,”

lighting, flooring, ceilings, walls:

“The room devoted to calculating machines and other noisy equipment has its walls of the same special acoustic plaster as is used on the lobby ceiling,”


Hershey Chocolate Corporation; Payroll record keeping department.  ca.1935-1940

Hershey Chocolate Corporation; Payroll record keeping department. ca.1935-1940


furniture, and telephone system:


“communicating facilities are provided between all office and the plant by dial telephones” and messenger service: “special small box type elevators connect the Receiving Department with the Mailing Desk.  A pneumatic tube system connects the Traffic Department with the Shipping and Stock Rooms of the plant for the rapid, safe delivery of all orders.”


Today the building is in the midst of major renovations to make it a functional and modern (once again) office space for The Hershey Company.



The pedestrian tunnel opens, finally!


 If you live in or near Hershey, you are aware that downtown Hershey has been under construction for for the last couple years.  There are several projects going on:  straightening the intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Avenues, building a new bridge over the railroad tracks (to replace a bridge that was built over 100 years ago), and building two pedestrian tunnels: one under Chocolate Avenue and the other under Park Avenue by the entrance to ZooAmerica. 


Hershey Train Station, ca.1915


 This is not the first time Hershey has built a pedestrian tunnel to improve safety.   


West bound train arrives at Hershey railroad station. ca.194-1920


Passengers disembark an eastbound train at the Hershey railroad station. ca.1913



Years ago, when people rode trains to get to Hershey and locals took the train to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, there was quite a bit of foot traffic to get to one side of the train tracks or the other. If you arrived at Hershey via a westbound train and wanted to get to Chocolate Avenue, the factory, or the Department Store, you would have to walk over the railroad bridge on your way to Chocolate Avenue. After a day at Hershey Park, to get to the south side tracks for trains traveling east, travelers had to walk over the railroad bridge and then over to the passenger station.



When it was snowing or icy, this inconvenient route became dangerous.  The steep rise of the bridge made walking challenging.  In bad weather the footpath over the bridge was often slippery with ice and snow.  By 1912 residents and visitors were clamoring for a easier, safer way for pedestrians to cross the train tracks.



As part of Hershey’s planning for its 10th anniversary in 1913, a decision was made to build a pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks.  The Hershey Press carried news of plans for a new tunnel.


 Hershey Press, 3/20/1913


Construction did not go smoothly.  In late April 1913, heavy rains caused two cave-ins and delayed the tunnel opening.  It was not ready in time for the Community’s 10th anniversary celebration.  It finally opened in early July 1913.  To read the details about the tunnel, visit the Archives’ website and read the Hershey Press newspaper for yourself.

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.



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.

Construction begins

Building the scaffolding in preparation for pouring the Arena barrel roof shell, 1936

Building the scaffolding in preparation for pouring the Arena barrel roof shell, 1936


Tedesko realized that the Hershey project would be a unique challenge.   He referred to it as a “home-made structure, constructed by Hershey men.” Tedesko became the planner/architect/engineer/construction manager. Milton Hershey wanted to save money and refused to formally hire a construction manager. The result was a rather chaotic beginning.   Eventually, Tedesko secured the help of Oscar Spancake, a carpenter-foreman, who mobilized a crew of 250 men, 4 concrete mixers and 2 elevators. The workers had no previous experience in concrete construction, leaving Tedesko no choice but to supervise all aspects of the concrete pours. Remarkably, by July 2, 1936 pouring for the first roof section began.


Pouring the lower tier of seats in the Hershey Arena, 1936

Pouring the lower tier of seats in the Hershey Arena, 1936

Formwork for the sections was made up of a patchwork of standard lumber sizes, since Milton Hershey had stipulated that all the lumber associated with the project later be used in the construction of barns and homes in Hershey. The scaffolding structure was composed of over 300,000 board feet of yellow pine lumber and the entire scaffolding and formwork structure was placed on a series of 250jacks .  The pours were simultaneously started on both sides from the ground level, and didn’t stop until the two sides came together at the top of the arena. These pours took anywhere from 14 to 20 days, working 24 hours a day.


Workers hauled concrete in handcarts up to the roof.  1936

Workers hauled concrete in handcarts up to the roof. 1936

George Booth had vivid memories of the construction:

Yes, I remember when that was going up.  And that windowless office building, too.  But that arena job was unbelievable, the number of men.  How it was a continuous concrete pour with that kind of equipment, you had to push a truck, probably 800, 900 pounds of concrete in it, wet concrete, push it up ramps, somebody helping to pull you, pouring 24 hours right around the clock. 


After a minimal time  of curing, the plan was to lower the support jacks and  the forms would drop away from the concrete shell.  The first time this step was taken, Witmer feared that the structure was about to collapse.  As they lowered the support jacks the concrete continued to stay attached to the forms for the first 2 inches.  Much to his relief, the concrete shell stopped settling and separated from the scaffolding as the forms were lowered further.


As the work progressed, the workers gained skill and subsequent sections were completed more efficiently.  Pours were still being made when the temperature dropped significantly. If the concrete froze the structure would be ruined:

Again from George Booth:
It got cold, and Paul [Witmer] made a deal with the city of Philadelphia to have carloads, rail cars, brought up here with manure to cover that concrete, to help it cure, you know.  Today you couldn’t do a thing like that.  As a matter of fact, it would take longer to get a permit to build a building like that than it took to build it under today’s regulations. 

When it opened on December 19, 1936, the Hershey Arena was the first large scale barrel shell roof structure in the United States.  Its construction established Anton Tedesko as the preeminent engineer for such structures.


More construction photos available at