- Historic Sites
The Chocolate Camelot
Once upon a time a shy but persistent candymaker named Hershey dreamed of building his own utopia …
June 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 4
As far as the chocolate business in Hershey is concerned, the only major change since the founder’s days—except maybe the attitudes of the workers—has been the advent of national advertising. For decades Hershey’s cavalier refusal to advertise had rankled admen everywhere, for obviously his success seemed to prove that it did not, after all, necessarily pay to advertise. In fact Hershey did indulge in certain kinds of advertising, but not the kind that used advertising agencies. His name was printed large in silver letters on his wrappers, so that wherever they might fall, they became an effective ad in themselves—Hershey was said always to have kicked them right side up with his toe when he saw them in a gutter. Before World War I Hershey bars had post cards inside the wrapper illustrating such milk-chocolate themes as a cocoa pod or a herd of cows in a meadow, and over the years advertising copy has been prepared for use by retailers. Although all this was a far cry from the usual advertising programs of national corporations, the New York Sunday News not long ago gave Hershey special credit: “Hershey ran what was undoubtedly the most costly long-term promotional campaign in history—the community of Hershey itself.” One deep thinker in the advertising field believes Hershey had automatically good sales luck because of the pleonasm of his name—the repeated meaning, or double feminine, of her and she .
But it wasn’t until 1970 that the first Hershey television commercials surprised the advertising fraternity. One such precious minute shows a herd of angry cows charging down the main street of Jefferson City, Missouri, because they have heard that the local children are not drinking their milk. Following the cows are some jeeps loaded with Hershey Instant. Describing the dénouement, a New York Times advertising columnist wrote: “The kids, bowing to this show of force and flavor, drink their milk. The cows leave udderly victorious.”
The Hershey firm, among businessmen, has a reputation for stodginess. A Wall Street broker explains, “When your company has to feed, clothe, house and educate 1,500 orphans every year, you just have to be conservative.” Nevertheless, the company is putting out a new chocolate and peanut item called the Rally bar, and chairman Schiller recklessly promises, “I personally will eat every one of these we don’t sell.” The orphanage has, in fact, accrued so much money it doesn’t know quite how to spend it, and recently it had to get special legal permission to give away fifty million dollars for a new medical center for Pennsylvania State University. The school already has treated itself to a massive Founder’s Hall that looks like a recently added attraction to the Strip in Las Vegas; a huge mosaic set in its floor illustrates “twelve significant events in the life of our founder.” The resortlike poshness everywhere in the school is defended by its president on the ground that “if a boy is presented with a bright, clean wall, he won’t make a mark on it. ”
But some of the union members would like some ofthat bright, clean wall for themselves. They do not want it given to them; they’ll settle for the cash and make one of their own. Ray Carlucetti, the union business manager, admits that the current average pay of $3.80 an hour is near the top of the chocolate industry, but this fact still does not stop the undercurrents of restiveness that began back in 1937 and that most recently broke out in a wildcat strike of three thousand workers on June 17, 1972. At midnight a mob that reminded old-timers of the pioneer cio strikers stoned passing cars, threw nails on streets, and beat up two nonunion workers, college students with temporary jobs whose cars were smashed up for good measure. The students were released from the hospital after treatment for cuts, bruises, and sprains, but for a time it looked as if the spirit of the old CIO had been ghosted back into Hershey to settle the old score. After sixty state policemen broke up the riot, the protesters, who were disputing factory rules on work breaks, agreed to arbitrate the matter. Carlucetti, who did not condone the demonstration, points out that the workers for years have had all this wealth paraded before them, in the town and out at the school, and they feel it is about time they got their hands on some of it, too. They do, of course, still get the traditional Christmas turkey from the company.
When Hershey died, a New York Herald Tribune editorialist commented, “Was it not at bottom a despotism, no matter how benevolent and practical? The entire scheme was enlightened, intelligent and permeated with a rare human decency. And yet … it was a sort of feudalism. ” It was a fair enough epitaph.