The Story Behind the Hershey’s Kiss

How the iconic chocolate Kiss was born, the origin of Milk Duds, the company's WWII "power bar," the founder's close call with the Titanic and more.

Chocolate kisses, closeup.Rick-Sause-Photography / Shutterstock.com

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means you’re almost certain to run across some bite-sized morsels from the Hershey Co. — at the grocery store, the office if not in a gift box. As you shop the Valentine treats aisle this year, consider these little known facts about the ubiquitous candies and the iconic American company that produces them:

1. The third time was a charm

Hershey copyMilton S. Hershey as an apprentice at Royer’s Ice Cream Parlor with another worker in 1873. (Source: Hershey Community Archives, Hershey, Pennsylvania)

Founder of the Hershey Co., Milton Snavely Hershey, was born in 1857 in Derry Church, Pennsylvania, a city now known as Hershey. He became fascinated with chocolate-making after he attended the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He worked for years to perfect a recipe for milk chocolate, something the Swiss had kept a closely guarded secret.

Hershey failed at two businesses before he started the successful Lancaster Caramel Co. and its trademarked line of Crystal A caramels. The Hershey Chocolate Co. was a subsidiary of the caramel company. He sold the parent company in 1900 for $1 million so he could concentrate on chocolate-making.

2. This company town was built on sweets

Hershey, Pennsylvania in the early 1900s.Chocolate Avenue, Hershey, Pennsylvania, circa 1918. (Source: Hershey Community Archives.)

Hershey developed the town that bears his name — and which is now a world-famous tourist attraction — as a community for his employees. He established houses, schools, churches, parks and even a trolley system. Hershey had attended school only through the fourth grade but wanted more for the next generation. In addition to elementary and secondary schools, he founded Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys. In 1918, he discreetly transferred the bulk of his wealth (including ownership of the Hershey Chocolate Co.) to a trust held for the Hershey Industrial School, which now accepts girls.

3. Finally, a treat for the masses

Chocolate Ad. Ad from 1930-1935 (Source: Hershey Community Archives)

The original Hershey’s chocolate bar was introduced in 1900, the first time such candy was available to those other than the very rich. One early advertising slogan described this new product as “a palatable confection and a most nourishing food.” Fun fact: The 12 pieces of a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar are called “Pips.”

4. Sealed like a Kiss, except during wartime

MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN / Shutterstock.comMAHATHIR MOHD YASIN / Shutterstock.com

Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolate were introduced in 1907. No one really knows how the candies got their name, but one theory is that they were named for the sound or motion made as the machine creates them on the product line. Before 1921, Kisses were hand-wrapped in foil that enclosed a printed tissue square rather than the now famous thin paper plume, trademarked in 1924.

Production of Kisses was halted from 1942-1949 because of the rationing of silver foil during World War II. That’s not the only time culture played a role in Kisses’ production. The swinging decade of the 1960s brought with it a “color revolution” in Kisses’ foil, starting with red and green coverings for those sold during the Christmas season.

5. What’s in a Kiss

Hershey's New YorkTupungato / Shutterstock.com

More than 30,000 Kisses are produced each minute in the West Hershey, Pennsylvania, plant. There are about 95 Hershey’s Kisses in a pound, and there are 25 calories in each Kiss. Eat a whole pound, and you’ve consumed 2,375 (tasty) calories.

6. The original power bar?

Hershey's ration bars provided for U.S. troops during World War II.Hershey’s ration bars provided for U.S. troops during World War II. (Source: Hershey Community Archives)

Hershey’s played a part in World War II by producing more than 3 billion “Field Ration D” bars, a heat-resistant, 4-ounce chocolate bar with a high-energy value for American GIs. One other U.S. Army requirement: The bars had to be palatable but not so tasty that soldiers would eat them as a treat instead of saving them for an emergency.

7. Named for its imperfection

Sheila Fitzpatrick / Shutterstock.comSheila Fitzpatrick / Shutterstock.com

Talk about truth in advertising! What we now know as Milk Duds were originally designed to be perfectly round. They aren’t, of course, so they were dubbed Duds. The “Milk” in the name refers to the large quantity of milk used in making the caramel centers and milk chocolate coating.

8. The best-selling candy born on a farm

Sheila Fitzgerald / FlickrSheila Fitzgerald / Flickr

The man behind Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was Harry Burnett (H.B.) Reese, a dairy farmer who worked for Hershey. Hard-pressed to support his family at various times of his life, Reese started a candy company in the basement of his home. After some failures, Reese’s candy cups — peanut butter, coconut cream, peppermint cream, chocolate jets, nougat, marshmallow-nut, coated dates, coconut caramel, peanut clusters, raisin clusters, honey-dew coconut and nuttees — took off in the mid-1930s.

The Peanut Butter Cups were so popular that Reese began marketing them separately. Hershey, who initially had inspired Reese, supplied all of the chocolate coating for the cups. Reese died in 1956, and Hershey bought his company in 1963. Although the company won’t release sales data, it reports Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are its best-selling product. The company did note that it makes enough Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in one year to feed 1 cup to every person in the USA, Japan, Europe, Australia, China, Africa and India.

9. The origin of the mini

Julie Clopper / Shutterstock.comJulie Clopper / Shutterstock.com

In 1938, Hershey Miniatures were introduced for sale after years of use as sample bars to promote new products. Originally, Miniatures consisted of the Milk Chocolate, Bittersweet, Aero, Nougat-Almond and Krackel bars.

10. Hershey – luckily – missed the boat

Milton Snavely Hershey.Milton Snavely Hershey (Source: Hershey Community Archives)

Hershey died at age 88, but he narrowly escaped death at 55 in the most famous sea disaster of all time. Archives show that Hershey wrote a check for $300 to the White Star Line, which many believe was a 10 percent down payment for a VIP stateroom on the Titanic, the ill-fated luxury ocean liner that sailed in 1912. It’s not known why Hershey and his wife, Catherine, opted instead to sail on an earlier ship, the German liner Amerika, from Nice, France, to the United States. Some speculate that Catherine was ill or that business reasons prompted Hershey to return earlier than expected. What is known is that the Amerika was among the ships that sent an ice warning to the Titanic — which sank after striking an iceberg.

What’s your favorite chocolate treat? Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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