Happy Birthday, Mr. Hershey
Honoring the Founder
During most of Milton Hershey’s lifetime, birthday celebrations were a private affair. Sometimes Mr. Hershey hosted a small gathering of friends. Frequently he was traveling in Europe, New York City or Atlantic City, New Jersey during his birthday. That pattern changed when Milton Hershey turned 80 years old.
1937 had been a tumultuous year in Hershey. In April Hershey Chocolate Factory workers held a sit-down strike, the first job action by the newly formed CIO union. The strike divided the town and devastated Milton Hershey. While labor matters were quickly resolved, the strike rocked the model company town. To let Milton Hershey know that he was still greatly honored by his employees, a celebration was planned.
Time for a celebration
On Monday, September 13 at 7:45 p.m. Hershey employees invited Milton Hershey to a birthday party in his honor. Over 6,000 employees and their families gathered in the Arena to celebrate Milton Hershey’s 80th birthday. A birthday cake, 3 feet high and lighted with 80 electric candles, stood in the center of the arena. Milton Hershey was serenaded by four local bands, and there was ice cream and cake for everyone.
My first real personal contact with M.S. Hershey was when I was Master of Ceremonies at his 80th birthday. At that time after the committee had formulated plans for the party – refreshments, dancing, two orchestras, vaudeville acts – And we bought him an easy chair and lounging robe (they are both in the museum). We still had about $900 left. So we got him a ring with the early Hershey label (child in a cacao pod). A cameo with the trade mark, encircled with diamonds.
(from an oral history interview with Jay Stahl)
Hershey’s 81st birthday was also a community event, but one sponsored by Milton Hershey. Residents and workers were invited to the Arena for an evening of entertainment, including vaudeville acts, and musical performances by both high school bands.
Employees presented Milton Hershey with a birthday greeting message. The message read:
On this your eighty first birthday we give to you these red roses, one for each year of your life. They are symbols of our devotion and love, and tokens of our appreciation for your unceasing efforts in helping us to find happiness in our lives.
We who know them so well need not recount your good deeds. Suffice it to say that our gratitude lies deep in our hearts and will remain there forever. In these times of style and unrest the work could wish for no more than its people follow the path of righteous living as exemplified by you.
It is our fondest hope that you continue to enjoy good health and contentment for a long time to come. May you always be proud of your community and its citizens. And lastly, may your kindly acts be ever blooming flowers through the passing of the years!
God bless you, Mr. Hershey!
Your Employees and Friends
The evening concluded with dancing and refreshments.
In 1939 Milton Hershey again celebrated his birthday at the Arena. This time he invited all of Hershey’s homeowners to a dinner. The dinner was a “farm to table” celebration with everything but the olives, coffee, salt and pepper coming from foods grown or raised on Hershey farms.
1939 was the last time Milton Hershey’s birthday was celebrated as a community event. For the rest of his life, his birthdays were celebrated with small private dinners. Guests were most often his senior executives and their wives.
For his 88th birthday, Milton Hershey invited his senior staff to a dinner held in The Homestead, his childhood home. It was a small gathering. Surrounding him were men he had hand-picked to lead the various Hershey organizations. Mr. Hershey also arranged to have his baby cradle placed in the room as a memento of his childhood.
This was the last birthday that Milton Hershey celebrated. He died a month later on October 13, 1945 in Hershey Hospital.