Monday, June 25, 2007

Lives in Letters: Postcards from Chocolatetown

I found a quick series of postcards from Hershey Pennsylvania in my travels today, and being inclined towards chocolate, I thought these would be fun to talk about.


Recreation Spot
Rustic Bridge
Cow Herd

Hershey Chocolate Co.
Hershey, Pa.

Chi & Carbondale R.P.O.
October - November, 1909

Addressed to:
Mrs. D. A-
Streator, Ill.


October, 1909
Dear Mother + Father
Did not get my ??
off until to-day
so do not know
whether you will
get it on time or
not. Am O.K. Having
bad weather but every
thing is fine so far.

November 14, 1909
Glad everything
is O.K. at home.
Same here. Tell me
if father's name goes
up. Will write to-night.

November 22, 1909
Got your letter
this A.M. Glad
everything is O.K.
Do not send any
money. Don't need
it and I will stay
until Xmas.

I'll talk about the chocolate in a bit, but first a few things about these cards.

These were all postmarked from the Chicago-Carbondale Railway Post Office (RPO). The RPO was an actual railway car or series of cars that functioned as a permanent but mobile post office. The car had a slot where you could leave letters like in a mailbox, and a sorting set-up inside including all necessary staff. The RPO system existed for 113 years in the U.S. (from 1864 to 1977) but was ultimately replaced by air and ground transport of U.S. mail.

These postcards then, even though they show Hershey, PA on the front, were sent from somewhere between Carbondale, IL (Southern Illinois) and Chicago. It could have been anywhere along that line, because Ed's parents were from a mining town in rural Northern Illinois, that sits between Carbondale and Chicago.

Ed sounds to me like a college Freshman writing home to reassure his parents. For the sake of argument, I'm guessing he was at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His parents wanted him home for Thanksgiving, and were going to send him money to make the trip, but Ed told them no, he'd stay at school until Christmas. Not that I know any of this -- Ed's not terribly chatty, but perhaps his letters had more substance than his postcards.

Okay, onto the important matters of chocolate.

First, when did Ed go to Hershey? My guess, the summer before he started at college. It was his last family trip with the parents and the little brothers and sisters. Hershey was still very new, and spectacular, so it must have been quite a trip.

Here's what an historical marker in the center of Hershey says about the town:
Model industrial town and noted tourism destination established in 1903 and named for its founder, Milton S. Hershey (1857 - 1945). Hershey's companies developed housing, recreation, education and cultural facilities, financial institutions, public utilities, a transit system, and the world's largest chocolate factory that opened in June, 1905.
And here's more from the website:
It was here, surrounded by some of America's most productive dairy farms, that Milton S. Hershey opened the world's first modern chocolate factory, and built the "model town" to provide employees and their families with an attractive place to live, work, and play. In 1907, he opened "Hershey Park" for the recreation and entertainment of the workers and their families. He also built a zoo, now known as ZooAmerica. During the Depression, his "Great Building Campaign" created jobs and a stadium, sports arena, community center with an elegant theater, and a Mediterranean-inspired hotel-The Hotel Hershey.

Mr. Hershey's proudest accomplishment was the founding of the Hershey Industrial School for Orphan Boys in 1909, and the establishment of a trust that would provide funding for the institution.
Did you know that Milton Hershey failed in the candy business THREE times (in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York) before he finally made a go of it? This brief story about Milton Hershey is worth reading, especially the Model Town and Legacy sections, where you can learn more about Hershey's methods for building a community for his employees, keeping folks working through the depression, and taking care of children in need. It's good stuff.

And now that I've taken the time to make this wonderful chocolate tour, I may just have to book a trip to the Hershey Chocolate Spa. It's only 2 short hours from my home. Oh my. Oh my. Oh my....


Little Willow said...

I think you'll like this site:

Nancy said...

Ooh, that's wonderful. Thank you!