Milton S. Hershey and the RMS Titanic
One of the most intriguing moments in Milton Hershey’s life was his narrow escape from the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Mr. Hershey originally booked passage on the ill-fated passenger liner, but a last-minute change in plans was most likely a decision that saved his life.
In our collection, Hershey Community Archives has the cancelled check for $300 written to the White Star Line on December 18, 1911. The cost of a first-class stateroom on Titanic ranged between $3,000 and $4,000, which suggests that Mr. Hershey made a 10 percent deposit to reserve such a room.
Mr. Hershey and his wife Catherine (“Kitty”) spent a significant amount of time in Europe. Much of that time was spent seeking relief from Kitty’s health problems, which stemmed from a chronic illness. The illness was never fully diagnosed, but it appears to have been progressive and neurological in nature. The Hersheys had been wintering in Nice, France, beginning in December 1911.
In early 1912, Mr. Hershey determined that he needed to return to his businesses in the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, earlier than his Titanic booking would accommodate. Instead of setting sail on the maiden voyage of Titanic, which was scheduled to depart on Wednesday, April 10, he cancelled his passage and instead sailed on the German liner Amerika. While Kitty remained in Europe, Mr. Hershey arrived in New York City on Saturday, April 6 and returned to his town on Sunday, April 7.
Ironically, the captain of the Amerika is reported to have transmitted a message to the Titanic, reporting that Amerika passed two large icebergs close to the course Titanic was following.
An article in the Lancaster New Era on April 18, 1912, read:
Mr. Milton Hershey of Hershey, Pa., the chocolate manufacturer, was in Lancaster on Wednesday and told his friends of the narrow escape he made from having taken passage on the Titanic. It was his intention to sail on the great liner originally, but finding that it would reach New York later than he desired to land he booked on the German Liner Amerika, which arrived several days ago.
As the Titanic began to sink on the night of April 15, the ship’s crew enforced a “women-and-children-first” protocol. Had Mr. Hershey sailed and perished on the ill-fated ship, his untimely death would have impacted his town, his chocolate company and his legacy.
To better understand how things might have turned out differently, what follows is an assessment of what existed in 1912, and what Mr. Hershey created in his town after 1912.
Visitors interested in seeing Mr. Hershey’s cancelled check to the White Star Line can find it on display in the Museum Experience at The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue . A copy of this document is also on display in the Milton Hershey Suite at The Hotel Hershey.
What existed prior to 1912
- The Hershey Company was established in 1894, so its original factory (completed in 1905) and a substantial operation existed in 1912.
- In 1909, when Mr. Hershey created the Deed of Trust for the Milton Hershey School, he also signed a will that left 3,000 shares of Hershey Chocolate Company stock to the School Trust. Because the Chocolate Company was privately held, 3,000 represented the bulk of company shares. Therefore, his school would have continued.
- Mr. Hershey opened Hershey Park (now Hersheypark) and the Hershey Zoo (now ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park) early in the 20th century. These two attractions were among the amenities he provided to keep his employees, townspeople, and visitors entertained. Though their operations would surely have been affected by his absence, they were already solidly established by 1912.
What Mr. Hershey created after 1912
- Mr. Hershey developed a number of cultural attractions in his town during the 1930s. All three properties listed here are currently operated by The M.S. Hershey Foundation, which Mr. Hershey established in 1935 to provide educational opportunities.
- The Hershey Press Building, which opened in 1916, is the current location of Houlihan’s and Devon Seafood Grill restaurants. It also serves as corporate headquarters for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company (HE&R).
- HE&R itself was established in 1927, when Mr. Hershey separated his chocolate-making enterprises from his other businesses. Therefore, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company would not exist as we know it today.
- During the 1930s, as a way of keeping all townspeople employed during the Great Depression, Mr. Hershey embarked on what today is called his “Great Building Campaign.” He created buildings and attractions all over town, and kept 600 workers employed during this period of significant local development.
- Mr. Hershey created the following sports and entertainment attractions after 1912.
- Finally, Mr. Hershey made many changes and lasting contributions to public education in Derry Township after 1912.
- Upon his death in 1945, Mr. Hershey’s will established the Derry Township Public School Trust (annual income dedicated to relieving school tax burden)
- 1915: Establishment of M.S. Hershey Consolidated School (consolidated education from grades 1-12 in the community from a variety of one-room schools)
- 1925: Establishment of Hershey Junior-Senior High School (grades 7-12)
- 1938: Establishment of Hershey Junior College
While certain pivotal parts of the Hershey community and Hershey businesses were established prior to 1912, such as the chocolate company, Milton Hershey School, and Hersheypark, the bulk of the town’s amenities (and Mr. Hershey’s vision for his model industrial town) did not materialize until later in his life. While it is impossible to know just how different Hershey would be had Mr. Hershey perished on the Titanic, it is worth reflecting on the ways the community benefitted from his philanthropy and business acumen after the event.