1909 Milton Hershey School
Chocolatier Milton Hershey didn’t invent the candy bar, but he was the first to transform it from expensive delicacy to treat affordable by all, and in the process he became very wealthy. He and his sickly wife, Kitty, were unable to have children, so they decided to give their sweet fortune to orphans and other needy boys living in hardscrabble—something Milton understood well, after a peripatetic childhood and education that ended at fourth grade, due to a drinking father who left his family for long periods of time. In 1909, Hershey signed over to his new Hershey Industrial School a fully operating 486-acre farm that included the homestead where he had been born. In 1918 he went much further, placing all of his shares in the Hershey Chocolate Company in a trust whose sole purpose was to benefit the school. He kept the transfer secret until it was revealed in a 1923 interview with the New York Times, when he explained that “I have no heirs, so I have decided to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs.” To this day, the school retains controlling interest in the Fortune 500 Hershey Company, the Hersheypark entertainment complex, and other businesses.
Right up until Milton Hershey’s death in 1945 (at which point his only assets were his home and its furnishings, having given away everything else while he was still alive) he remained intimately involved in the running of the school. He made sure his boys (and now girls too) received very practical upbringings, “a thorough common-school education, supplemented by instruction in the useful crafts.” He had three goals for every graduate: a vocation, a love of God and man, and a sense of wholesome responsibility. “We do not intend to turn out a race of professors,” he noted. Students had to build their own beds and chests in the school carpentry shop, and keep up with a host of chores, including twice-daily milking of the school’s cows. The milking requirement for students continued until 1989, as the curriculum gradually shifted toward college preparation. Highly structured chores requirements remain, as does mandatory chapel time on Sunday. And to this day, active work in the school’s agricultural, animal, and environmental centers (for example, a fish hatchery operated on the trout stream running through campus) are an important part of its efforts to promote initiative and responsibility.
Beyond this emphasis on individual commitment, discipline, and work, Hershey is renowned for creating an authentically personal, warm, and nurturing environment. Students live in groups of 10 to 12, two or three to a bedroom, in more than a hundred closely clustered houses overseen by a married couple with childrearing experience. A transitional living program places seniors in quasi-independent apartments, where they get help in buying and preparing their own food, setting their schedules, and running their own lives in preparation for college or self-support after graduation. More than three quarters of graduates now go on to four-year college, just shy of ten percent enter the work force or military, and the remainder attend technical or two-year college. With 1,900 pre-K to twelfth-grade students—most with missing, deceased, or jailed parents and other disadvantages—today’s Milton Hershey School is the largest boarding school in America, and its $11 billion endowment, larger than all but a few universities, allows it to offer its education (including large scholarships for college) and superb care (including things like intensive counseling, orthodontia, all food and clothing) entirely free to each child.
- Milton Hershey profile in the Philanthropy Hall of Fame, philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/hall_of_fame/milton_hershey
- Philanthropy magazine article, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/the_sweet_smell_of_success
- Washington Post school profile, washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/24/AR2008102402383_4.html?sid=ST2008103003551