Milton Hershey Showed That Persistence Is Key To Success

Milton S. Hershey earned a "doctorate in failure" before achieving great success.

What’s your favorite candy bar?

When I was asked that question, I had to think about it for a moment because I like a lot of them. However, there’s one that I consume far more of than any other so I decided that one must be my favorite: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, marketed by the famous Hershey Company (HSY). The firm is one of the largest and most successful chocolate manufacturers on the planet today (about $8 billion in sales in 2019), though it’s worth noting that its founder tasted failure before he ever enjoyed the flavor of success.

Hershey's History

Milton S. Hershey’s story began in southeastern Pennsylvania and you can’t do it justice without noting the impact of business failure on his early life. Even before any of his own businesses flopped, Milton had a front-row seat to his father Henry’s seemingly endless entrepreneurial misfires.

Hershey family biographers figure Henry to have been an affable man, not nasty or violent in any way, but a dreamer who never could translate his visions into a bottom line with a positive number. To little avail, he chased after investments and businesses of a stunning variety. Here’s a partial list of the ventures in which he lost money from Pennsylvania to Colorado: a perpetual motion machine, oil wells, farming, farm equipment, cough drops, cabinetry, silver, livestock remedies, picture-painting, and second-hand junk dealing.

On one unfortunate occasion, Henry filled a basement with canned tomatoes, intending to sell them but they fermented and exploded. The police caught him dumping the mess without a permit and forced him to clean it up and dump it someplace else. Henry wanted to get rich quick, but only got poorer even quicker—until in his twilight years his far more accomplished son was able to bail him out.

Hershey's Persistence

Still, I admire Henry for doing what the old adage instructs: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” He possessed in bushels at least one trait Milton inherited from him: persistence. America’s 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, had a few good words to say about that:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

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Lawrence W. Reed is President Emeritus, Humphreys Family Senior Fellow, and Ron Manners Ambassador for Global Liberty at the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also author of  more

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