H.B. Reese, Inventor of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Worked At Hershey's First

By | March 9, 2021

Candy has a bit of a complicated history to it because a lot of the same people were doing the same things at around the same time and you can even kind of track how one borrowed from the one before it once the industrial revolution hit. One great example is a man named Harry Burnett Reese (or "H.B. Reese"), who happened to work at a factory run by a young Milton S. Hershey, looking for a job to support his growing family. If you know your candy, then you know where this story is going. H.B. Reese, inventor of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, is by far responsible for more childhood smiles than anyone that comes to mind.

H.B. Reese started his career in 1903 when he was helping his father-in-law manage his cannery business in Virginia until 1912, when he took over a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, and then took a factory job, as many did in that era, in 1915. The story goes that in 1916, H.B. Reese was looking for a job and found an ad put out in the York Daily Record by Milton S. Hershey, of Hershey's Chocolate, looking to expand his dairy farms across the country, primarily those located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Reese worked in Hershey's experimental dairy farm named The Round Barn, where he used the at-the-time new milking machines, which were much more efficient than milking cows by hand, but far less humane. Though Hershey never shut the farm down for moral reasons, he did shut it down for financial reasons, finally closing it in 1919, leaving Reese out of the job.

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So, in 1919, dead in the middle of that pandemic, a man with a love for candy formed himself a company called The R&R Candy Company that he operated out of a canning company using his previous experience running his father-in-law's canneries with him. At this point, Reese had been trusted by one of the world's foremost chocolatiers (regardless of taste, you can't deny that Hershey's is one of the most popular and internationally well-known candy names in the world) with innovation technology, exposing him to some trade secrets, but also giving him a well-rounded place from which to know how to own, operate, manufacture, and ship out candy himself. What did he originally sell? Milk chocolate covered raisins and almonds, which he sold to stores individually at the local level. He knew he needed the absolute best there was in machinery at the time and he knew how to do that, by offering stock in the company and raising today's equivalent of about a quarter million dollars, he brought in a board of four people under the new name The Superior Chocolate and Confectionery Company. The business failed, largely in part due to the fact that Reese had other jobs trying to support his ten children, with a baby on the way, at which point he took on another job as a butcher, and a third job where he was, again, canning (but this time it was vegetables, at least).

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Hershey Community Archives

So his father-in-law then came in for the rescue in 1921, buying the relatively-normal-sized 12-person family at the time a home in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Now that Reese was finally back in Hershey, it was high time for him to start working at The Hershey Company's shipping department, being quickly promoted to foreman, since he had the experience in doing everything from shipping to canning to dairy. 

And then, also, on the side, from his brand new basement on Areba Avenue, he started to tinker and toy with an assortment of candy, confections, hard candy, nuts, raisins, mint candy, and chocolate bars. 

His first two "big name" candy bars were The Lizzie Bar, which was named for his eldest daughter Mary Elizabeth, and The Johnny Bar for his son, John, who worked in the same shipping department as his dad. The Johnny Bar had nuts in it, which was the difference between the candy bars; do with that information what you will. Both bars were caramel-coconut candy covered in Hershey's milk chocolate. Always Hershey's milk chocolate. Reese had an affinity for his employer and paid respect to them by supporting the business where he started with the one he would eventually create. The business was perfectly symbiotic.