Listen now on
#146 Milton Hershey (Chocolate)
September 27th, 2020 | E146

What I learned from reading Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D'Antonio.


Come see a live show with me and Patrick O'Shaughnessy from Invest Like The Best on October 19th in New York City. 

Get your tickets here


Subscribe to listen to Founders Premium — Subscribers can listen to Ask Me Anything (AMA) episodes and every bonus episode. 


[0:01] Perhaps the only thing about Milton Hershey that is absolutely certain is that he believed in progress. He was always moving. 

[2:51] This blew my mind. Only six universities held larger endowments. Which meant that the Milton Hershey School was richer than Cornell, Columbia, or the University of Pennsylvania.   

[4:14] Milton’s father was unrealized ambition personified.  

[5:44] One of the biggest things Milton learned from his father and something he avoided. His father had 1,000 schemes and never stuck to any of them. He didn’t know what perseverance meant. 

[7:25] Rockefeller had arrived in Oil City in the same year as Hershey, 1860. But unlike Henry, he was possessed of extraordinary energy, remarkable financial savvy, and an uncanny ability to remain focused on his goals. 

[8:00] Henry’s had a preference for talking about things rather than doing them. Even neighbors could see that the man was lazy. Milton was the direct opposite of these traits. 

[8:37] This gives you an insight into why Milton would leave a large fortunes to orphans: Milton was denied the kind of stability children need to feel secure. He had been moved from place to place, and he listened to his parents argue with increasing frequency and anger. Milton went without proper shoes and the little family didn’t have enough to eat. 

[9:14] He learned to channel all of his energy and passions into a single outlet: work.

[10:47] The main takeaway from this book: Milton Hershey had perseverance in abundance. 

[12:43] Hershey experiences multiple business failures before he founds his first successful company.  

[14:34] Things start to go bad. He realizes he has another “me too” product. He faced intense competition from hundreds of other candy retailers and wholesalers in the city. He doesn’t find success unit he actually innovates. Milton finds a way to turn a luxury product — milk chocolate — into a mass produced, inexpensive product.  

[16:37]  This is an important part. He is being squeezed by suppliers. Later on in life he realizes if something is important to your business you must control it. He starts his own sugar plantation. He does this for other ingredients he needs to make his product. 

[19:08]  His simple idea: Caramel is really popular in Western states. The candy makers in Denver figured out how to make caramel that don’t go bad and taste very well. That was not happening where he was from. He decided to take that idea back east and build my own caramel empire. He sells that company for $1 million and uses that money to start Hershey Chocolate. 

[22:34] Milton is doing exactly what you and I are doing right now. He is studying successful entrepreneurs.  

[24:44] Bouncing back from defeat is essential for growth in any endeavor. 

[25:00] Milton is at rock bottom. He is somewhat depressed and downtrodden. But there is something freeing about that. Because he realizes I can only go up from here. 

[25:30] The main theme in the life of Milton Hershey is perseverance. He has been working in this industry for 14 years. He has had two gigantic business failures. He has borrowed money from everybody he possible can. He is tapped out. He is embarrassed. He is a failure. Yet he doesn’t quit. 

[26:12] If failure is the best instructor he could argue that he had earned a doctorate. He intended to make candy no one else produced.  

[29:48] This is the wild part. He had told me all. He did not conceal the bad part. He made no excuses for it. He was honest. I decided I would lend him the money. But I was afraid to present the bank that note with that story. To avoid the trouble I put my own name on the note. The banker takes out the loan for Milton —in his name! 

[30:50] Milton tried to make small improvements over a long period of time.  

[31:30] Small continuous improvements over many years produces miracles. 

[31:54] No one alive visited more retail stores than Sam Walton. He was obsessed with studying and learning from other entrepreneurs. No one alive had gone into more confectionaries and candy shops than Milton Hershey.  

[32:20] While visiting Europe he notices that companies were creating a big new industry serving low cost chocolate to the masses.  

[33:54] He is constantly redesigning his manufacturing process, making it more efficient. It becomes so efficient no one else can compete with him. 

[36:41]  Only the Swiss had figured out how to mass produce milk chocolate. They aren’t going to tell Milton how to do it. He must experiment on his own. . . To do this he sets up a milk chocolate skunkworks. 

[38:13]  How many people are willing to put in this much work? Milton and about 18 workers would rise at 4:30a.m. to milk the herd of 78 cows. After breakfast they’d go to work. Sometimes they didn’t come out until the next morning. 

[40:05] What Milton Hershey did for the mass production of chocolate is the same thing that Henry Ford did for the mass production of automobiles and its the same thing the McDonald’s brothers did for the mass production of fast food. 

[46:15] This one act would create something unique in both philanthropy and capitalism. It made the school, under its trustees, the majority owners of a national company that was poised to double in size, many times over, in the decades to come. 


I have listened to every episode released and look forward to every episode that comes out. The only criticism I would have is that after each podcast I usually want to buy the book because I am interested, so my poor wallet suffers.”— Gareth

Be like Gareth. Buy a book. It's good for you. It's good for Founders. A list of all the books featured on Founders Podcast.