How the 'Titanic' Almost Sank Hershey

The Hershey Company and the RMS 'Titanic' share a surprising link.
The Hershey Company and the RMS 'Titanic' share a surprising link. / Print Collector/GettyImages

In 1894, Milton Snavely Hershey founded the Hershey Company. It wasn’t his first foray into the candy field, but you might be able to guess that it was his most successful. In 1905, the company opened a factory that could mass produce chocolate, allowing Milton and his employees to market and supply their tasty wares nationally. By 1906, the Hershey Company had so many employees that an entire town was needed to house them all. The result, Hershey Park, included a swimming pool, a ballroom, and even rides. It quickly became a tourist destination.

By 1911, the Hersheys were rich enough that they decided to spend the winter in Nice, France. Figuring they might as well enjoy themselves when they headed back home to deal with business in April, Hershey put a $300 deposit down on a luxurious return trip: a stateroom on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The first-class accommodations the Hersheys were planning on rivaled some of the finest hotel rooms in the world. The $3000-$4000 suite included a sitting room, a couple of bedrooms, dressing rooms, a private deck, and a private bathroom. Some even had fireplaces.

Most stories say that Mrs. Hershey fell ill a few weeks before they were scheduled to come home, forcing them to make different travel arrangements. One version of the tale claims that an employee requested that Milton head back home early. The company simply states that Hershey “[found] it necessary to return earlier.”

No matter the reason, instead of stepping foot on the fated ship, the chocolate magnate and his wife sailed out on a German luxury liner called Amerika instead. They arrived home several days before the Titanic met its iceberg doom. In a strange coincidence, as the Amerika made its way back across the ocean, it sent a message to the Titanic, warning of large obstructions in the very area where the ship eventually went down.

Hershey wasn’t the only VIP who decided not to sail. J.P. Morgan also had a room booked and canceled at the last minute, as did Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick and George Vanderbilt II. Morgan had some last-minute business to attend to; Mrs. Frick injured her ankle; Vanderbilt supposedly refused to go because a family member claimed that things often go wrong on a ship's maiden voyage. The warning failed to save their luggage and their driver, Fred Wheeler, both of which perished in the disaster.

This story was originally published in 2011. It has been updated for 2022.