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Look to the past reveals accurate vision of the Hershey companies' future

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Valerie Seiber, collections manager at the Hershey Story Museum, prepares a millstone for display. The equipment was used in Milton Hershey’s original chocolate factory. A new exhibit that opens Jan. 27 highlights chocolate workers and factory life from 1905 to 1925.
Valerie Seiber, collections manager at the Hershey Story Museum, prepares a millstone for display. The equipment was used in Milton Hershey’s original chocolate factory. A new exhibit that opens Jan. 27 highlights chocolate workers and factory life from 1905 to 1925. - (Photo / )

Almost 70 years after Milton S. Hershey died, his fingerprints remain all over the blueprint under which The Hershey Co. and other Hershey properties continue to operate.

The annual report of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Internal Affairs published in 1915 — which deals with the Hershey Chocolate Co.'s profile in 1913-14 — details the beginnings and the future plans of the Hershey companies, and it maps out how Hershey wanted to help build the Dauphin County area best known by his name.

The document, unearthed in the Hershey Community Archives, bears a close resemblance to the company's current business practices, philosophies and infrastructure.

"I'm always so, so amazed that somebody could pick this (document) up and read it and see that, in 1914, it's like it could have been written now," said Don Papson, executive director of the M.S. Hershey Foundation, which operates the archives as well as with The Hershey Story Museum, the Hershey Theatre and Hershey Gardens, all in Derry Township. "Much of what was predicted about the impact of the community in that report has happened."

According to the report, the town layout in 1914 had Hershey's enterprises occupying about 8,000 acres of Derry Township's nearly 17,500 acres of land. Today, even with the company's growth into a $6.6 billion franchise, Hershey's interests — The Hershey Co., the Milton Hershey School and Hersheypark — occupy about 11,000 acres in the township, Papson said.

Hersheypark was laid out at 150 acres, about the same size it is now, according to Papson.

The document also details the beginnings of an employee bonus program Hershey initiated at the plant around 1908 to benefit the factory's 1,200 employees. The program gave a gift of 20 percent of their salary to employees who completed "continuous satisfactory service" for six months. When the program started, only about 20 percent of the plant's employees received the bonus.

But by 1914, more than 80 percent were receiving the bonus, costing the company more than $100,000, according to the report. With inflation rates, that's about $2.5 million today.

The company still runs an annual incentive program and has a stock-purchase program to go along with tuition reimbursement.

The company also prides itself on its current commitment to safety and advanced technology, and the early launch of the company exhibited that same kind of commitment, according to the 1915 report:

"The best forms of labor saving devices were installed, including a systematic gravity system of transmission, to supersede extra handling ... unusual care is taken to preserve purity and sanitary conditions. Many operations are so skillfully carried on by mechanical devices that personal contact is practically avoided."

Experience the past

In another way of looking to the past to build the future, the M.S. Hershey Foundation plans to launch an exhibit Monday in the Hershey Story Museum detailing what life in the factory was like in the early 1900s, called “Chocolate Workers Wanted.”

It shows everything from the separation of men and women at the plant to the bathtubs turned into makeshift wheelbarrows to carry liquid ingredients for chocolate.

The exhibit is housed in the museum’s first floor, where it stages temporary showcases. It will run through Nov. 9, the longest-running temporary exhibit in the museum’s five years.

“Making chocolate was more of an art form then,” said Valerie Seiber, collections manager for the museum. “It went by taste, by feel, by smell. The exhibit tries to show you what that whole process was like.”

Visitors can grab a punch-card at the beginning of the exhibit and visit seven stations of the production process as it was 100 years ago. At four of the stops, the punch card is marked in the way an employee would have stamped a time card.

The exhibit includes stations covering employee dress, cocoa bean roasting, refining, wrapping and other aspects of the production process. It also includes first-hand employee oral histories from recordings found in the company archives.

“It’s geared toward kids, but adults will enjoy it, too,” Anthony Haubert, spokesman for the foundation, said.

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Michael Sadowski

Michael Sadowski

Mike Sadowski covers Lebanon County, banking and finance, law and the legal community, and technology. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @MikeCPBJ. Circle Michael Sadowski on .

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John January 31, 2016 12:29 pm

Milton Hershey wasn't always so good to his employees. When the plant workers first tried to unionize, the employees were shown the error of their ways by being severely beaten with huge clubs. When employees are first hired they are shown these clubs and given a history of the factory and the formation of the union. Just ask the union ( Local 464 ).