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What a way to make a living! Working at the Hershey Chocolate factory

The wrapping department poses in front of Hershey Chocolate factory offices.  1915

The wrapping department poses in front of Hershey Chocolate factory offices. 1915

The original Hershey Chocolate factory closed this spring after 107 years of service. Chocolate making is still in Hershey as operations were moved down the street to the newly expanded West Hershey plant. The original factory and its iconic smokestacks will remain part of the Hershey landscape. Over the next several years the building will be repurposed.

During its life as a chocolate factory, the Hershey Chocolate factory defined the community, providing steady work for residents of the town and surrounding area while adding a sweet, chocolatey scent to the air.

Who were these workers and what was it like to work at the original chocolate factory? The Archives recently created a case exhibit in The Hershey Story lobby to showcase some of the archival materials in the collection that provide insight into worker lives. In particular the Archive’s oral history and photograph collections help us to better understand what working in the factory was like.

Women with gingham aprons label and pack cocoa tins.  ca.1925-1935

Women with gingham aprons label and pack cocoa tins. ca.1925-1935

I was new.  I was scared of getting lost.  I didn’t know the way around, you know.  You had to go through two long corridors, five flights of steps, and you went in there.  Those days we had aprons, gingham aprons, and white caps we wore.  You went in and went to your machine.  You had to be there.  When your machine started up, there was no waiting.  You’d better be there, you know.  One time I was reprimanded.  You only were reprimanded once.  You didn’t want to be reprimanded again. (Interview with Mary Bonawitz, 1996)

Employee "stick" almonds to make sure the almonds are completely coated in chocolate.  1950

Employee "stick" almonds to make sure the almonds are completely coated in chocolate. 1950

When you stuck almonds, you got bored.  It was hot and you had to fight sleep sometimes.  You start in work at ten minutes of six, coming up to your department, you know.  You had to be there.  And it was so hot.  And in one position for five hours, there was a tendency to get drowsy.  And if you wanted to talk to your partner, it was all lip reading.  But we caught on very well.  We had fun. (Interview with Mary Bonawitz, 1996)

To learn more about Hershey Chocolate workers and what it was like to work in the chocolate factory, stop by The Hershey Story and check out our exhibit case.  To learn more about the Archives’ photograph and oral history collections, visit the Archives’ website.

Heart of the Community: Hershey’s Community Building



Hershey Community Building, 1933
Hershey Community Building, 1933


Originally planned for 1916 and finally constructed during Hershey’s Great Building Campaign of the 1930s, the goal of the building was to provide entertainment and recreation, as well as to fulfill educational and civic functions for the entire town. World War I and subsequent financial challenges for Hershey Chocolate Company delayed its construction.  Finally in November 1928 ground was broken.  The building was completed in September 1932 and officially dedicated in September 1933 as part of the Town’s 30th anniversary celebration.

The primary function of the Building’s recreational facilities was for the use of the Hershey Men’s Club.  The Men’s Club offered an extensive range of programs and activities for the boys and men of Hershey.  The facilities were very impressive.

Game Room: 180 feet long, contains four bowling alleys, a court for practicing driving golf ball or putting, three shuffleboard tables, four ping pong tables, five pocket billiard tables for men, one billiard table for boys, a table for curoque, and a section devoted to games for boys in addition to tables for cards, checkers, chess, etc.

Game Room, Community Building; ca. 1932-1942

Game Room, ca.1932-1942

On same floor is a swimming pool 75 feet long by 25 feet wide, 3 – 9 1/2  feet deep,  with three spring boards.  Separate showers for men and boys
Community Building Swimming Pool, ca. 1950-1960 
Gymnasium:  (80 x 44 feet with 35 foot ceiling) for class work, volley ball, basketball, softball, badminton and special exercising rooms as well as two courts for four-wall hand ball, also can be used as squash courts.
Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

The Archives oral history collections contain many memories of the Community Building and how important it was to the residents, particularly the children.  Many men shared memories of their childhoods spending afternoons and evenings at the Community Building:

Frank Simione (93OH02):

In the early years, from starting at my eighth birthday, we belonged to the Hershey Community Building, which at that time was called Community Club for us, where they had the Hershey hospital on the sixth floor, later became the Hershey Junior College. At eight years old, we belonged to this Community Building, where we learned all the athletic sports, all types of games. I think it was three dollars for six months, and you started as a cadet and went up to a junior, and then you went into intermediate, then you went into a senior program.

Spending all that time and all those years there, I learned many athletic games and as much as all the small games that you would play, like checkers and dominos and pool and ping-pong and bowling. We were fortunate to have this facility. At the time, we didn’t know any better, but as we grew, and later on in life, we found that that was a beautiful place for kids to go.

To learn more about the Archives’ oral history collections use this link to visit the Archives online collections database.


New machinery for the factory installed

Hershey Press, 1909 original masthead
Hershey Press, 1909 original masthead





The Hershey Press issue dated September 17, 1909 carried a variety of articles about the community and Chocolate factory as well as printing ads from Hershey owned and independent businesses.

One of my favorite columns was titled: Hershey Briefs: Items About You, Your Neighbors and Things in General.  Illnesses, individual’s trips to Harrisburg and Lancaster, comments about people who dropped in to visit the Press office, parties, practical jokes, bowling competitions and related events were appropriate for this column.  It reminds me of today’s Facebook postings:  the information in the column varied in significance and interest.

The Hershey Press is also a great resource for documenting the growth and development of the community.  On the front page of this issue, the Press carried an article about the installation of a new pastor at Derry Presbyterian Church, one about the contents of a large freight train delivering materials to Hershey and an article noting the completion of a new addition to the Hershey Chocolate Factory for the Longitudinal department.  I found the article 9-17-1909-longitudinal-machines




 particularly helpful because this short article helped the Archives date this photograph of the new department:


Hershey Chocolate Factory, Longitudinal department, ca.1909

Hershey Chocolate Factory, Longitudinal department, ca.1909

The article and photograph also bring  to life architectural plans in the Archives collections for a new addition to the factory on a 1909 insurance map.  The plan {87FP01.1} notes that the new building held “about 30 Grinders for finishing chocolate”  operated by “220 volt motors.

It’s back to school…

Hershey Estates vice president James E. Bobb leads a group of children at Hershey Elementary School dedication ceremonies, November 15, 1956.

Hershey Estates vice president James E. Bobb leads a group of children at Hershey Elementary School dedication ceremonies, November 15, 1956.

Milton Hershey’s interest in and commitment to providing the town with quality public education led him to underwrite the cost of all the community’s public school buildings constructed in Hershey during his lifetime.  Continuing that tradition, in 1954 The M.S. Hershey Foundation presented the Derry Township School District with a new elementary school.  The new building initially served students in Kindergarten thru Grade 3.  In 1956, a 15 room addition was completed allowing the school to bring fourth and fifth grade students into the new building.  In addition to classrooms, the elementary school contained a cafeteria, all-purpose room, music rooms, speech corrections office, health room, and administrative offices.   In 1956 there were 1,104 students in the elementary school.  Dedication ceremonies and a community wide open house were held on November 15, 1956.  More than 2000 people toured the new school building. The elementary school would be the last public school building totally funded by the Hershey Entities.

To learn more about the history of public education in Hershey check the history of education exhibit on the Archives’ website.

Curry Mill Fire

3b068.2  Curry Mill fire, 1914

Aftermath of the Curry Mill fire, 1914


Hershey published a weekly newspaper from 1909 to 1926.  It is a wonderful resource for learning more about the community’s early years.  Recently the Archives was able to have the newspaper digitized and indexed.  The paper can be accessed through the Archives’ website, on the “Collections and Research” page.


 The newspaper, The Hershey Press,” was published under a variety of names, including Hershey’s Weekly,’ “Hershey’s Progressive Weekly,” and simply “Hershey Press.”


Often the newspaper provides more detailed information about events documented in photographs from the collection.  A search for “Curry & fire”  returned this article that provides detailed information about the tragedy.  The photograph is brought to life by the information.


 While caption recorded on the back of this photograph indicated that it had been taken after the 1914 Curry Mill fire, no other information existed about this tramatic event.  Searching the Hershey Press database for more information about the fire provided important details.  The fire broke out during Saturday night, May 30, 1914.  When the alarm was given and fire fighters arrived, their efforts were hampered by a lack of water with which to fight it.  It wasn’t until a railroad steamer filled with water arrived several hours later that the fire fighters were able to put out the blazes in the mill and coal piles.  For the full story check out the  Hershey Press online.