After selling his caramel business in Lancaster, Milton Hershey began construction of the original Hershey Chocolate Factory in 1903 in Derry Church, PA, a town that would later come to be named Hershey after him. Despite some brutal strikes in the 1930s, Hershey was known for his philanthropy and his dedication to improving the lives of his workers, a legacy that has inspired fierce loyalty in many even to this day. Many area attractions, including Hersheypark, Hershey Gardens, the Hershey Theater, and the Hershey Museum, were founded for the enjoyment of his workers and are still in operation currently. Milton Hershey also established the Hershey Industrial School (later renamed the Milton Hershey School) for orphaned boys as he and his wife were unable to have children of their own. The Hershey Company provided chocolate bar rations to troops during World War II and this chocolate served as the genesis of Mars Inc.’s famous M&Ms. M&Ms used Hershey chocolate during rationing and were created in collaboration between the president of Hershey’s son and Frederick Mars.
In the decades that followed, Hershey Chocolate grew exponentially in size and the original factory complex added many buildings, becoming a dense maze of hallways, vats, and pipes that created the eponymous chocolate bars, Hershey’s Kisses, chocolate syrup, and a myriad of other products that came and went as other companies were acquired and candy lines were introduced and discontinued. Milton Hershey passed away in 1945, leaving the Milton Hershey School Trust with a controlling interest in the Hershey Company, as well as ownership of Chocolate World and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, which in turn owns Hersheypark. The original factory housed all production until 1963, when a factory in Smith Falls, Ontario opened, followed by one in Oakdale, CA in 1965.
Controversies beset the Hershey Company in the new millennium. These included legal disputes over the calling candy ‘milk chocolate’ when vegetable oils replaced cocoa butter and milk substitutes were used, a dismissed price-fixing suit, Hershey’s refusal to adopt fair trade practices (including measures to prevent child labor), use of the MHS Trust as a “GOP slush fund”, and an ugly incident involving the foreign exchange students who had paid to see the country and were instead placed in exploitative conditions in the Palmyra plant.
By far the most controversial was the closure of the Smith Falls and Oakdale plants in 2008 to move production to new facilities in Monterey, Mexico and another production facility in Brazil. Angered by the move, many consumers boycotted Hershey. The original factory in Hershey was closed in 2012, ostensibly to move production to a newly expanded West Hershey plant, where Hershey Kisses and other products are still manufactured. According to a Pennlive article, the West Hershey facility is the “largest and most sophisticated in the world”, however the article goes on to state, “In recent years, Hershey has shifted production to Mexico and carried out a global restructuring that eliminated about 1,500 North American jobs, including about 800 in the midstate.” Demolition began on the original factory in 2013.