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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.






Learning the business



Trade card; Milton Hershey's first business, Philadelphia, PA.   ca.1876

Trade card; Milton Hershey's first business, Philadelphia, PA. ca.1876

Milton Hershey launched his first business venture in Philadelphia in 1876, opening a confectionery shop and wholesale business. That year the city was hosting an international exposition celebrating the nation’s centennial anniversary. Hershey’s shop was located at 935 Spring Garden Street, a main pathway to Fairmount Park and the Centennial Exposition. Milton hoped to take advantage of the large crowds anticipated and his business card pictured the Exhibition Machinery Hall.


His first shop was too small and a few years later Hershey moved down the street to larger quarters at 925 & 927 Spring Garden Street for his retail business and also established a separate wholesale business at 532 Linden Street. Milton worked long hours. Sometimes he was so exhausted that he had to knock his head against the wall to keep from falling asleep on his feet. Many nights he did not go home, but slept at the store under the counter.


The Philadelphia market proved unyielding even to long hours and youthful ingenuity. He was turning out a good line of candy, but his investment was small. He had neither equipment nor staff sufficient for the mass production and quick turnover needed to make money out of penny goods. Though sales kept up with production, he was not able to produce enough to keep ahead of his bills. He fell behind in payments, and live in fear of impatient sugar dealers suddenly cutting off his raw materials.


Instead of concentrating on one product, Hershey produced a variety of goods in an effort to appeal to everybody. Besides candy, he sold fruit and nuts. He made ice cream. On the Fourth of July one year he paid a German Band to play in front of the store while he served ice cream at five cents a plate to the crowd.


With increased production, there had to be more help to keep his stock moving. In 1880 he hired Harry Lebkicher, who had been a clerk in a Lancaster lumberyard.


In 1881 his father, Henry Hershey, arrived. It is said he worked for four dollars a week, peddling Milton’s candy – not because he could have done better for himself, but because he wanted to help his son make a good start. Henry Hershey was a man both of imagination and of action. “If you want to make money,” he said to his son, “you have got to do things in a big way.”

Letter:  Milton Hershey to Uncle Abraham Snavely; 01/14/1881

Letter: Milton Hershey to Uncle Abraham Snavely; 01/14/1881

To support his son’s business Henry Hershey designed a new a new candy display cabinet for his son to market and also developed a recipe for a medicated cough candy. In the December 1880 issue of the Confectioners’ Journal, Milton Hershey placed a large ad featuring the candy cabinets and cough drop candies.


Unfortunately there was not enough financing to support another venture and Milton Hershey slid further into debt each month. Hershey appealed to his mother’s brother, Abraham Snavely, for repeated loans but was soon rebuffed by his uncle who had little regard for Henry Hershey.


Within the year Milton Hershey’s first business venture would collapse in bankruptcy. While the end of this business was not happy, Milton Hershey learned many lessons about supply, credit, cash flow and the importance of limiting your product line that he would put to use more profitably in future business ventures.