If you have a sweet tooth or are a chocoholic, make a beeline to Hershey, PA., the “Sweetest Place on Earth.” First stop - Hershey’s Chocolate World, where you can enjoy a free, simulated factory tour ride and discover how all the sweet stuff is made.
You’ll hop on an amusement style car and journey from cocoa bean to fully wrapped candy bar. Robot cows in a barnyard tell you about the importance of milk in Hershey’s chocolate and their repetitive tune will follow you throughout the tour…and longer. Feel free to clap along if you so desire!
Your Disney-fied, narrated experience of this Willy Wonka-like kingdom continues into the chocolate factory, where you’ll hear about the many steps involved in readying the cocoa beans for use, from sorting, cleaning, roasting and milling to grinding, pressing, drying, blending and refining them. Music accompanies the actions of whirring machinery and moving conveyor belts along with flashing strobes.
Then smile for your picture and off you go down the exit ramp to receive your mini chocolate bar, catchy cow song still reverberating in your head.
Enter the Chocolate World marketplace, where you can choose from more than 500 different candies spanning more than forty different brands, find humongous-sized candy bars including a Hershey’s Bar weighing in at an impressive five pounds, 25-pound crates of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, an entire wall of Hershey’s Kisses in assorted flavors, an oversized Hershey’s Syrup coin bank, chocolate candles, even a denim jacket with rhinestone Hershey Kisses. And the list goes on…
You can also create your own candy bar, stuff a one-pound Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with your favorite mix-ins, participate in a chocolate tasting adventure and solve a chocolate mystery in an interactive 4-D show. And wait, there’s more! Just outside Hershey Chocolate World is Hersheypark, the largest amusement park in Pennsylvania. It’s packed with thrilling roller coasters, family-friendly rides and a water park.
Take five at The Chocolatier, the full-service restaurant onsite, where dishes come with a fun culinary spin and you guessed it, hints of chocolate. Try the Heath Bar Crusted Salmon, Hershey’s Cocoa Barbecue Ribs, Reese’s Peanut Butter Hummus or the Very Berry Salad topped with Hershey’s Chocolate and Raspberry Vinaigrette. And don’t get me started on the desserts!
If you’re curious about the man behind the candy, you’ll need to head over to the Hershey Story Museum, located on aptly named Chocolate Avenue (check out the streetlamps in the shape of Hershey Kisses!). The museum features a series of installations with a variety of engaging and interactive components chronicles chocolate pioneer, Milton Hershey, from failed entrepreneur to chocolate king and philanthropic benefactor. Exhibits detail Milton’s ambitions, setbacks and the inner drive and ambition that helped him surmount challenges and overcome the odds.
You’ll learn via a detailed timeline that Milton was fourteen when he was first apprenticed to a printer. Unhappy in this line of work, he was then apprenticed to a confectioner in Lancaster, where he discovered a passion for candy-making. After learning the trade, he moved to Philly to start his own candy business, which was short-lived, ending in bankruptcy. Subsequently, his second candy business in NYC also failed. Back to Lancaster he went, where he sold homemade caramels from a pushcart, and eventually founded Lancaster Caramel Company with the help of a friend.
t was the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, though, that gave Milton that defining “aha” moment. The new inventions on display spurred him to purchase his first chocolate-making machines, leading him to establish the Hershey Chocolate Company a year later. And by the end of 1900, he had sold his first Hershey bar. A few years later, he broke ground on a new factory in Derry Church, now Hershey, PA.
Though cocoa was around for centuries before Milton came along, his innovations revolutionized the confection, transforming chocolate from a luxury to an everyday treat. His discovery of milk chocolate was the key.
Through trial and error, he found that adding the sugar prior to condensing allowed him to remove more of the milk’s moisture. The result was a thick mixture of sugar and milk that mixed well with chocolate to create the perfect taste and texture for milk chocolate.
Industrialization, particularly the invention of automated wrapping machines, also played a major role in Milton’s ability to produce milk chocolate quickly and efficiently, enabling him to essentially have a monopoly on the milk chocolate market.
Finally, Milton was the master of promotion, as he understood early on that products, even good ones, won’t sell if people don’t know about them. So, he included colorful postcards wrapped inside each chocolate bar, depicted eye-catching artwork on packages and featured elaborate displays to attract customers into his shops. He simultaneously made his wares and his name famous.
Ever frugal, though, Milton recycled by-products from his chocolate plant to make such items as soap from cocoa butter and mulch from cocoa shells. He also experimented with some non-chocolate food products, from Easy chew gum to veggie sorbets.
Milton not only built the Hershey factory, but also the community in the town which bears his name. He chose the area because it was near dairy farms, had available land and good train transportation. And it also happened to be his birthplace. For forty years, he worked to create an enriching home for his employees, for tourists and for him and his family.
Over time, Milton built his legacy, too, with the M.S. Hershey Foundation, which has supported educational and cultural opportunities since 1935. Exhibits shine a light on the many community buildings, schools, civic centers, gardens and cultural institutions he founded.
Of special note is The Milton Hershey School, which nurtures kids in social and financial need, preparing them for success in all aspects of their lives. Originally named the Hershey Industrial School in 1909, it was the fruition of a vision and dream shared by Milton and his wife Catherine. Unable to have children of their own, the couple opted to use their wealth to create a home and school for orphaned boys.
The famed chocolatier passed away in 1945, but his spirit, ideals and ingenuity are still alive and well in Hershey, PA.
www.chocolateworld.com Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications.