A Sweet Cultural Force: Hershey's Chocolate
Backstory and Context
A Sweet Cultural Force
Hershey’s chocolate is perhaps one of the most beloved candy companies in United States history. Ask someone if they have ever eaten a classic Hershey bar, or Twizzlers, or a Reese’s peanut butter cup. The probability of that person saying they have never tried any of these candies is slim to none. Hershey’s has been in the national consciousness since even before World War II. Since that point in history, Hershey’s popularity has skyrocketed. As a result, a theme park, a factory tour, a school, and even an entire town has been dedicated to the creator of the Hershey empire, Milton Hershey, and his vision. There are also factories established not only in the U.S., but around the world as well, thus creating global dominance. Hershey’s is far from a simple candy bar: it is sweet cultural force.
The chocolate industry would appear vastly different today if Milton Hershey decided that the future was in caramels, not chocolates. Hershey was a pioneer in his day: he made chocolate available to all economic classes during a time when it was considered a symbol of wealth. He was even considered “the ‘Henry Ford of chocolate makers.”’ (Woloson 179-180). Despite being a maker of caramels early in his career, he became interested in chocolate making when he attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 (Woloson 179). It was there that he learned how to make chocolate and put his own twist on it. He became noteworthy when he created chocolates like the nickel bar that was always affordable to ordinary Americans (Woloson 180). This resulted in an increased popularity within the majority of the American population. Since Hershey’s chocolate was affordable and tasty, people became more interested in what the company would make next. He introduced new ingredients such as milk that would change the world of chocolate for decades to come (Woloson 180). Hershey was changing how chocolate was made, and eventually it would become what we know chocolate to be in present day. Hershey’s vision would ultimately lead to many candy bars that people in his time would not even be able to imagine.
Hershey’s has various factories within and outside of the United States, specifically in Lancaster and Hazelton, Pennsylvania; Stuarts Draft, Virginia; Oakdale California; Memphis, Tennessee; Robinson, Illinois; Ontario, Canada; and Monterrey, Mexico (wikipedia.org). The chocolate-making process is far from simplistic. According to the Ohio State University, cocoa beans first undergo “testing, cleaning and roasting” and is then turned into “chocolate liquor” (u.osu.edu). The cocoa beans are cooked for a half hour, turned into “a liquid cocoa butter,” and shaped into kisses, bars, or bite-sized chocolates (u.osu.edu). The chocolate-making process is not easy. It requires time, energy, dedication, and most importantly, passion. Hershey’s has used this process to make countless candies such as the classic Hershey bar, Hershey kisses, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Almond Joys, and many more. Though Hershey followed a specific process to make his chocolate, he continuously put his own twist on it to make it uniquely Hershey’s.
Historically, Hershey’s chocolate was used as a wartime solution. According to “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War,” Hershey’s chocolate played an important role during World War II. While overseas, soldiers were given chocolate bars, created by Hershey’s, to boost energy and morale (Butler). The author explains, “they had to weigh 4 ounces, be high in energy, withstand high temperatures and ‘taste a little better than a boiled potato’” (Butler). Since wartime rations were scarce, soldiers did not have much to choose from when it came to meals. Hershey’s attempted to give soldiers fighting for the Allied cause a more palatable option that would make them more effective in combat. The Hershey bar met these standards, and even though it was technically considered candy, reactions to it were mostly negative. The candy bars were too hard to bite into like normal chocolate, and the taste was anything but sweet (Butler). The author says, “most who tried it said they would rather have eaten the boiled potato” (Butler). The hope was that a candy bar was to be preferable to a mushed vegetable, but when limited to specific ingredients, a candy bar can be surprisingly less favorable. However, Hershey’s responded to the criticisms of their wartime chocolate bar and made improvements to better its taste and quality. As a result, the Tropical bar was created and shipped to the Pacific with the purpose of being able to withstand all conditions (Butler). Therefore, Hershey’s may have given the Allies a sugary edge over its enemies and aided in winning the war in its entirety.
Hershey’s has not lost an ounce of its popularity or its cultural influence in modern day. Because of the country’s love of Milton Hershey’s creation, there is now various tourist attractions, such as a theme park and a factory tour located in a town of its own name. According to hersheypark.com, “Hersheypark was originally created by Milton S. Hershey as leisure grounds for employees of Hershey’s Chocolate Factory” (hersheypark). What was once considered “leisure grounds” in Hershey’s time has transformed into a theme park open to the public including 14 adrenaline-inducing roller coasters, 50 rides, and a large water park (hersheypark). Now people from the U.S. and all over the world enjoy Hershey’s vision. Also located in Hershey, there is a school for under-privileged children that Hershey founded himself. According to the Milton Hershey School website, the Milton Hershey School was first opened in 1909 for orphaned children and is still in effect today. Children from elementary through high school are given free quality schooling, extra-curriculars, and housing (Milton Hershey School). Hershey once said, ‘“I wanted to give as many boys as possible real homes, real comforts, education, and training, so they would be useful and happy citizens”’ (Milton Hershey School). Hershey wanted to use his success as a platform to affect those whose voice was not as loud as his was. His mission statement is currently in effect today, since the school is influencing the positive change he envisioned for it.
Hershey’s is more than just a chocolate production company: it is an unstoppable cultural force. The company has impacted the U.S. throughout history, and it continues to influence the country currently. It all began with a man with an idea. Milton Hershey took his idea and turned it into a passion. Because of this, the U.S. fell in love with the sweet, savory chocolate unlike it had ever known. Not only did ordinary Americans respond to it positively, it also served a purpose. Though it was not as tasty as the chocolate bars that the civilian public had at their fingertips, it played a key role in providing nutrition and energy to Allied soldiers fighting in the Second World War (Butler). Hershey’s is also a large part of American culture: a town, a theme park, a factory tour, and a school are all in existence in the name of its creator. Furthermore, the U.S. would be an entirely different country if Milton Hershey decided to stick to making caramel instead of chocolate.
Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War.” history.com.
History. 6 June 2014. Web.
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“The Hershey Company.” wikipedia.org. Wikipedia. Last Edited 28 November 2018.
Milton Hershey School. mhskids.org. Milton Hershey School. 2014. Web.
Woloson, Wendy A. “Hershey Food Corporation.” Food and Drink in America. Edited
by Andrew F. Smith. Print.