The Founder of Hershey’s Booked a VIP Ticket on the Titanic But Didn’t End Up Boarding

herseyToday I found out that Milton S. Hershey bought a VIP ticket for the Titanic but ended up not boarding.

The Titanic, the unsinkable ship, launched on April 10, 1912, carrying some 2,200 passengers and crew en route to the United States. On the night of April 14, 1912, the ship hit an iceberg and sunk, resulting in around just 700 people surviving—only a third of the people on board. However, there were a few lucky people who survived because a twist of fate when they didn’t board the Titanic as planned.

In December 1911, Milton S. Hershey, the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, put down a $300 deposit (about $7,281 today) for a state room aboard the Titanic. The check for the transaction, made out to White Star Lines, is still in the Hershey Community Archives. Hershey had founded the Hershey Chocolate Company back in 1894, and it resulted—as you probably guessed—in a roaring success. By 1907, Hershey had his own factory to mass-produce chocolates and distribute them nationwide, resulting in enough money to take a lengthy trip to Nice, France. On the return home, he thought he and his wife might as well spend the days at sea lounging in luxury, which is why he put down the deposit on the state room.

It’s not certain exactly what caused Hershey to abandon the Titanic trip at the last minute, as the company will only say that he found it necessary to return to the United States earlier. There are two theories: first, a pressing matter at the factory required his attention, and second, that his wife Kitty had fallen ill, resulting in an early departure. Both stories have some weight; Kitty had notoriously bad health, and the founder of a company would certainly be required to cut his vacation short if “an urgent matter” popped up.

Regardless of what happened, Hershey did not board the Titanic as planned. Rather, he and his wife hopped on the German ship Amerika and arrived in the United States several days before the Titanic sank. Ironically, the Amerika passed through the waters the Titanic would be sailing through and sent word ahead that there were a few treacherous-looking glaciers along the way, and to watch out for them. Obviously, the warning wasn’t heeded. The Titanic was unsinkable, after all.

Even if he had been on board, Hershey and his wife would have had a better chance at surviving than a majority of passengers. Based on figures given by the British Board of Trade, 97% of female first class passengers were saved during the disaster, along with 33% of male first class passengers. That’s in comparison to the 46% of female third class passengers, 8% of male second class passengers, and 16% of male third class passengers who were saved.

Hershey wasn’t alone in narrowly escaping the wreck; there were several other famous cases:

  • J. Pierpont Morgan was an old financier who is credited with saving the United States banking system in 1907. He also had a hand in creating General Electric and U.S. Steel.  Morgan took an early interest in the Titanic and was even there for its launching in 1911. He reportedly had his own suite on board that came with a private deck and a bath with specifically designed cigar holders. Not bad, right? You’d think someone so invested in the ship would have made it for the final boarding call, but Morgan was so busy enjoying his massages and sulphur baths at a French resort that he is said to have lost track of time. After the incident, he told a reporter, “Monetary losses amount to nothing in life. It is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death.”
  • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, of the incredibly rich Vanderbilt family, was also booked to ride on the Titanic to return to the States after a trip through Europe. He cancelled at the last minute for unknown reasons—so late that many newspapers reported that he was one of the casualties of the sinking. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, he didn’t avoid a death at sea. Three years after the Titanic sank, Vanderbilt boarded the RMS Luistania on a business trip. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sank within 18 minutes. Eyewitnesses say that Vanderbilt helped others into lifeboats and gave away his life jacket to a young mother, knowing there were no other life jackets on board. It should also be noted that he couldn’t swim. His body was never recovered.
  • Nobel Prize winner and the “father of radio”, Guglielmo Marconi had originally been offered a place on the Titanic, but turned it down in favor of crossing the big blue on a ship that had a public stenographer.  Marconi did book passage on what was to be the second trip by the Titanic, but obviously this voyage never happened.  What makes this one even more interesting is that it was Marconi Company operators aboard the Titanic sending out the distress signals on a brand new, significantly improved transmitter that had much greater range than what was put on ships shortly before. This ultimately helped save the lives of many who would have died had that relatively new technology not been in place.  Needless to say, Marconi was deemed a hero at the time for his work in progressing the technology of transmitting messages via radio waves.
  • J.R. Mott, an evangelist and YMCA official, also had a close call. He and a friend had been offered a free trip on the Titanic by a White Star Line official who appreciated their work. However, they declined and took the Lapland instead for unknown reasons. When they heard about the disaster, Mott reportedly said, “The Good Lord must have more work for us to do.” Indeed, in 1946 Mott received the Nobel Peace Prize for working with Protestant student organizations who promoted peace.

There are many, many more people who supposedly “just missed it.” So many that five days after the sinking a “just missed it” club had been formed. It boasted 6,094 members. On April 26, 1912, less than two weeks after the accident, Ohio’s Lima Daily News reported that the club had 118,337 members—people who claimed to have missed boarding or changed their minds just in time. Obviously, a majority of these members were hopping on the bandwagon. Setting aside the fact that most of them probably couldn’t afford passage in the first place, the Titanic only had a capacity for some 3,300 people including crew. Had the number of people who said they “just missed it” actually made it, the ship would have sunk before it could set off from South Hampton. 🙂

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