Pulitzer Prize–winner D’Antonio (The State Boys’ Rebellion, 2004, etc.) provides a solid biography of the man whose name lives on through his eponymous chocolate bar.
And unlike his near-contemporaries, those evil robber barons, the name of Milton S. Hershey (1857–1945) remains fairly sweet upon the tongue. General consensus paints the candy maker as a Santa-like tycoon, a manufacturer of great wealth who was pleased to bestow his largesse—as long as you did things his way. In the mold of a Horatio Alger tale, his biography chronicles the rise of a poor maker of caramels to benevolent ruler of his own fiefdom. From stern Mennonite stock, he married a working-class Irish-Catholic woman with an ebullient personality and a shadowy past; their happy union was cut short by her premature death from syphilis. In business, Hershey was a trendsetter who through dogged experiment formulated confections that conquered the American market. Even before he was quite sure how to prepare milk chocolate (a mixture, basically, of oil and water), he confidently built a factory on his home turf, creating his very own town in the Pennsylvania countryside. He countenanced no cussing on the corner of Cocoa and Chocolate Avenues, maintained with the sales of nickel chocolate bars, individually gift-wrapped Kisses and crunchy Mr. Goodbars. The childless magnate’s favored eleemosynary object was the Hershey Industrial School for selected orphan boys—no slow learners, antisocial types or bedwetters. In his time, in his town, Mr. Hershey could be difficult. Quick to give with remarkable generosity, he was also quick to give sudden notice to employees who displeased.
Wide-ranging social history underpins a well-told, balanced account of the candy man, his business and his milieu.