“It was Kitty’s idea,” Milton Hershey always said when he spoke of the Hershey Industrial School. “If we had helped a hundred children it would have all been worthwhile.”
Fifteen years younger than her husband, Catherine Hershey developed an undiagnosable illness circa 1901, and was increasingly sickly for years. Hershey’s father, Henry, had been highly intelligent, but not too realistic; his get-rich schemes never worked too well. Hershey did not cope well with the instability; he had attended seven different schools, yet never made it into the fifth grade, so when Kitty was unable to bear children, the Hersheys decided to give needy kids the kind of upbringing he never had. Milton and Catherine Hershey established a home and a school for “poor, healthy white, male orphans between the ages of 8 through 18 years of age.”
On November 15, 1909, Hershey signed over the 486-acre (1.97 km2) farm where he had been born, complete with livestock, to start the school. In 1910, Nelson (age 6), and his brother Irvin (age 4) were the first to arrive. Their father, who had worked as a polisher in a Mount Joy foundry, had died after a long illness, and their mother couldn’t support six children by taking in laundry. Their brother William, 2, was too young to be admitted for two more years. Another pair of brothers, sons of an Evangelical church’s pastor, arrived a few days later. The first class consisted of 10 students, and by 1914, there were 40 boys enrolled in the school.