Picture it. The year is 1916. Chocolate magnate Milton Hershey arrives in Cuba for vacation. He is entranced with the lush tropical island, and he finds the Cuban people simply charming. With sugar a predominant industry in Cuba—and a key ingredient to Hershey’s milk chocolate—Mr. Hershey sees the potential for building a business there around sugar. Within months, Milton Hershey purchases his first plantation and sugar mill, and quickly builds a railroad and a community, which he names Hershey, Cuba.
“Mr. Hershey’s Cuba: A Sweet Venture in Sugar, 1916–1946,” is a new special exhibit, now open at The Hershey Story Museum, that tells the story of Mr. Hershey’s grand Cuban venture in sugar manufacturing, the model industrial town he created there and the admiration Mr. Hershey had for Cuba—and its people had for him, even decades after his death.
“Milton Hershey’s Cuban business venture in sugar manufacturing resulted in steady jobs, comfortable homes and modern conveniences for a large part of the Cuban community,” said Valerie Seiber, collections manager. “This exhibit takes a closer look at both the economic and personal impacts Mr. Hershey had on Cuba and its people.”
Visitors to the new special exhibit will be virtually transported to a tropical Hershey, Cuba, circa 1940, 14 years after Mr. Hershey created the town. Through artifacts, and vintage film and photos of Hershey, Cuba, visitors will discover how the town was different from other Cuban communities. They’ll learn about Mr. Hershey’s Cuban sugar enterprise and how sugarcane was grown, harvested, milled and turned into both raw and refined sugar. Families will enjoy trying out the interactive displays, which simulate phases of sugar manufacturing—from “cane to crystal. Kids will be able to:
- Operate a filtration system,
- Spin a centrifugal machine,
- Place sugar samples under a video microscope, allowing children to marvel at various types of sugar crystal structures on a high-definition screen, and
- Create their own model town using colorful building blocks.
Much like Hershey, Pennsylvania, the town of Hershey, Cuba consisted of a hotel, botanical garden, general store, sports club and employee housing, none of which existed prior to Milton Hershey’s arrival. In nearby Rosario, Mr. Hershey established a school for orphaned boys.
Milton Hershey’s influence on the island was so significant that he was awarded the “Grand Cross of the National Order of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes” by Cuba’s president in 1933. It was the highest honor Cuba could bestow upon a foreigner. Visitors will see the medal, sugar processing tools and equipment and Hershey’s sugar bags. Other artifacts include one of Mr. Hershey’s Cuban cigars, and his golf clubs. A uniform from the Hershey Sport Club baseball team also will be on display. The sport was popular in Cuba and Milton Hershey supported it by creating a baseball diamond for his employees.
Entry into the exhibit is included with admission to the Museum Experience.