William Klein, Sr. ca. 1905

William Klein, Sr. ca. 1905

William Klein


The entrepreneurial careers of William “Bill” Klein and his brother Frederick began in the shadows of Milton Hershey’s burgeoning chocolate empire on the streets of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After working at Hershey's Chocolate Company, the brothers relocated to Elizabethtown and founded their own company. The Klein Chocolate Company was hugely successful and remained in family hands throughout its existence, at times providing employment for brothers and sisters and financial security for the entire immigrant family.


The entrepreneurial careers of William “Bill” Klein (born September 18, 1884 in Lancaster, PA; died October 11, 1954, Elizabethtown, PA) and his brother Frederick (born May 30, 1888 in Lancaster, PA; died 1972) began in the shadows of Milton Hershey’s burgeoning chocolate empire on the streets of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.[1] As young boys they attracted the attention of America’s most famous chocolatier at precisely the moment when Hershey attempted to outdo his European competitors and create a uniquely American mass-marketable milk chocolate. Both William and Frederick joined Hershey’s Chocolate Company, became members of his research team and trusted employees, until they had learned enough about manufacturing and business processes to go off on their own.

Still in their twenties, William and Frederick relocated from Hershey to nearby Elizabethtown and founded the Klein Chocolate Company in 1913. Known best for their “3-Cent Lunch Bar,” the Klein products were hugely successful especially among less affluent customers, who swore by Klein’s low price and high quality.[2] The business remained in family hands throughout its existence, at times providing employment for brothers and sisters and financial security for the entire immigrant family. Klein Chocolate continued to grow and expand throughout the next decades and still sold the Lunch Bar at three cents in 1963, 50 years after its foundation. Nonetheless, when William Klein, Jr. sold the company in 1970, it had evolved into a modern managerial enterprise, its historical roots almost entirely lost. Only in recent years some local historians at the Elizabethtown Historical Society have begun to recover the most fascinating chapters behind the factory still overlooking this Pennsylvania town.

Family and Ethnic Background

Like many working-class immigrants to the United States, the Klein family left few traces in the Old World. Emigration records suggest that William’s father Gottfried Klein (1845–1922)[3], a married brick maker, came from a small village near Lubawa (known as Löbau under German rule) in the old province of West Prussia, roughly 70 miles east of Gdansk in modern-day Poland. The Kleins were part of the largest German immigrant wave that brought nearly 1.5 million Germans to the United States in the 1880s, many of them laborers and agricultural workers from rural northeastern Germany.[4] In March 1883, Klein and his five children, Wilhelmine (1874–1945), Albert (1876–?), Hermann (1878–1943), Amalie (1879–1922) and Marie (1882–?), left the port of Hamburg for the United States. Traveling with them was an eighteen-year-old nursemaid, Veronica Heycke.[5] According to both Prussian emigration and U.S. immigration records, Gottfried’s wife did not emigrate with them. Not even her name survived in the historical records. The only evidence of her existence appears when, six years later, Gottfried Klein married Veronica Heycke. Their marriage license, issued by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Orphan’s Court in June 1889, noted that Klein had been married before but “was divorced in Nov. 1886, in court in Germany, [for] house desertion.”[6] By that time, both William (born in 1884) and his brother Frederick (born in 1888) had already been born as American citizens. After the wedding, the couple had five additional children: Anne (1890–1973), Daisy (1893–1970), Paul (1895–1983), Martha (1897–1973) and Henrietta (1899/1900–1986).

After settling down in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gottfried Klein worked first as a mill hand and later as a grocer and dyer.[7] The latter profession was also at least temporarily held by two of the sons from his previous marriage, Albert and Hermann, who continued to live in Lancaster until the 1910s.[8] But neither of them was as successful as the two eldest American-born sons, William and Frederick, who were still teenagers when most of the family followed them and permanently relocated to Hershey, Milton Hershey’s newly-founded company town near Harrisburg, around 1905.[9]

If a strong bond between the Klein family and the Heimat persisted, no significant traces of that connection have survived. Even though the sons William and Frederick as well as Gottfried’s daughter Wilhelmina were presumably named after the Prussian aristocrats then at the helm of the German Reich, there is no evidence that the Klein family ever participated in any organized ethnic activities in Lancaster. This is not to say the Kleins did not congregate with other German-Americans, who spoke their language or shared their culture, religion or worldview. To do so publicly, however, would have signified a choice against the “American Way” in an increasingly hostile, nativist atmosphere with little room for immigrant (or even hyphenated) nationalism.[10] While German-American elites in cities like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago or St. Louis could still afford to challenge the prevailing nativism, working-class families often kept ancestry and cultural origins a private matter, manifested in traditions and customs.[11] Nonetheless, the origins of the Kleins’ success in chocolate may well have had its roots in the traditional German Easter eggs that William crafted in his mother’s kitchen while still a boy.[12] The family also continued to speak German at home and it seems that their father Gottfried, at least, struggled with the English language well into the twentieth century.[13]

Especially from a business perspective, public displays of German heritage were anything but beneficial. World War I broke out the year after William and Frederick founded their own chocolate company, and nothing would have been more destructive to the business objectives of this ambitious pair of brothers than to evoke any connection to the German Reich. Both William and Frederick married into established Pennsylvania families, even though William’s January 1916 wedding to Ray Treichler (1886–1929), the daughter of the influential physician and Freemason Abraham C. Treichler, was held according to “German custom.”[14] The couple would have one son, William, Jr. (1917–1971).

The Kleins’ U.S.-born sisters also seem to have participated exclusively in activities such as the Girl Scouts (Daisy), the YWCA (Henrietta), and the local literary society (Martha), all organizations that encouraged public immersion into a unified American life rather than ethnic diversity.[15] And while there may have been written exchanges with relatives back home, family members seem to have conducted little to no transatlantic travel even after financial success made such trips possible. In fact, only Frederick left any records of a return to Germany, in 1922 and again 1931, on trips he took along with his wife Jane, though it is unclear whether the couple ever visited the village in Western Prussia that Gottfried Klein and Veronica Heycke had left behind in 1883.

Business Development

The foundation of William and Frederick’s entrepreneurial success was laid in the streets of Lancaster, where the Kleins found their first home on Woodward Street.[16] Due to the family’s precarious financial situation, the sons were forced to work from a very early age. Selling newspapers and homemade chocolate eggs on Lancaster’s town square, William and Frederick attracted the attention of the local caramel manufacturer, Milton Hershey, in 1895.[17] By all accounts, it was their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit that impressed Hershey to hire the older William on the spot, first to perform menial tasks on the Hershey estate such as shoveling snow, later as a “candy hand” in his caramel and chocolate factories.[18]

Their German heritage may well have been another reason for Hershey’s decision to hire the Kleins. Chocolate was one of the new sensations on the emerging American mass consumer market in the late 1800s and the global leaders in the industrial processing of the product were located in Switzerland and Germany. Milton Hershey had realized the product’s potential after he tasted the refined chocolate presented by the German manufacturer J.M. Lehmann Co. of Dresden at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The experience inspired him to experiment with chocolate himself and Hershey continued to rely on German machinery as well as the knowledge of German experts in the process. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hershey repeatedly traveled to Europe and visited chocolate factories in Germany and Switzerland, unsuccessfully attempting to learn more about the ways in which Europeans mass manufactured chocolate.[19]

Hershey was particularly interested in the process of melting chocolate and milk into one delicious compound. Available in great quantities at a low price, especially in rural Pennsylvania, milk reduced the price of chocolate and made it smooth and digestible, adding a creamy texture, which appealed to a broader American palate. But Hershey faced the same problem that others before him had (often unsuccessfully) tried to solve: how to combine the fat-based chocolate with the water-based milk.[20] Having failed in his own attempts to learn some of the European secrets and desperate to find a technique that allowed for mass production, Hershey sent the sixteen-year-old William Klein to Massachusetts to spy on the competitor Walter Baker’s – a mission Hershey euphemistically called “a paid vacation for a most loyal employee.”[21] Following Hershey’s plan, Klein began working at Baker’s in an attempt to learn more about the competitor’s production process. But Baker was nowhere near accomplishing the difficult task and Klein soon returned to Hershey with lots of experience but no new insights on how to combine milk and chocolate.[22]

Despite such failures Hershey eventually sold his caramel factory to focus exclusively on chocolate, particularly milk chocolate. He moved his operations to a patch of land he acquired in Derry Township, fifteen miles east of Harrisburg, where he continued to devote himself to finding the right technique. Already dependent on the incomes of their two oldest American-born sons, the Klein family followed along and William, in particular, stayed close to the experiments. More than just a translator, his ability to communicate fluently in both German and English allowed him to acquire a transnational expertise in chocolate making. For example, when Hershey brought a German chemist to the United States, a Dr. Mostart from Koblenz, who claimed to know how to make milk chocolate, William Klein was assigned to assist and translate, which allowed him to apply his “American” knowledge to the experiments conducted by Dr. Mostart.[23] Competing stories continue to circulate about who eventually found the answer on how to make milk chocolate under what circumstances. Ultimately, the Hershey solution included skim milk and a slow heating process, which produced the characteristic “faintly sour note” that Hershey’s chocolate continues to be known for today.[24] Klein’s knowledge of European chocolates may or may not have eventually prompted him to set out on his own to produce chocolate closer to the “old world” taste.

By the early 1910s, four Klein children were members of the Hershey crew. William had worked across several departments in the company. As one former Hershey employee recalled: “William had charge of the picking of the shells out of the almonds and roasting of the almonds, and then the roasting room, the holding room, the mail room, and the press room, and the cocoa, he had charge of seven departments.”[25] While Frederick was working as a supervisor in the roasting room, the youngest brother Paul as well as sister Annie had also joined the company, though it is not clear exactly in what roles.[26]

Despite the cordial relationship between owner and employees, things went awry between the Klein brothers and Milton Hershey in late 1912—at least according to the official Klein company history, which suggests the Kleins eventually quit over a pay dispute.[27] But there is some evidence that the move away from Hershey was long planned by the Klein brothers and that their mentor did not take it personally. For one, it seems that neither Hershey nor the Kleins held any particular grudge against each other after they became competitors. “They did business as friends.”[28] Moreover, the move seems to have been the Klein’s long-hedged plan rather than a spontaneous reaction, though a pay dispute could have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. “I don’t think it was the money,” former employee John C. McClain told an interviewer in 1955, “Bill had an ambition to start a plan on his own, and he wanted to experiment on some ideas. There was no quarrel.”[29] The Kleins, moreover, had already sold their new house on Hershey’s Cocoa Avenue in November 1912 for $6,000 (2010: $139,000).[30] When Hershey employee George Bowman asked Frederick Klein about the sale he evaded the question. Bowman concluded: “They knew what they were going to do, but we didn’t. Nobody did. They were getting ready to leave there, which they did.”[31] In its fiftieth-anniversary publication, the Klein chocolate company also claimed that its founder William Klein had always planned to start his own business: “From the time William Klein went to work for Milton Hershey in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the age of 10, his life’s ambition was to be in business for himself.”[32]

At 28 and 25, respectively, William and Frederick Klein went off on their own and started the Klein Chocolate Company in January 1913. They set up store in a small 2,400-square-foot shop on Market Street in Elizabethtown where, with just one other employee, they began manufacturing their first chocolate in April. By October they had developed the recipe for what would become their first and most enduring product: the “Lunch Bar,” a milk chocolate bar with peanuts.[33] Revenue for that first year amounted to a mere $13,000 (or $295,000 in 2010 dollars), but with the support of some investors, the brothers incorporated the Klein Chocolate Co. in September 1914 with a capital of $50,000 (or $1.13 million in 2010 dollars) to start the construction of its first manufacturing facilities.[34] While Frederick became its president and frequently traveled to assess the supply and distribution process, William stayed on site and served as general manager, secretary, and treasurer.[35] This division of responsibilities, it turned out, was a recipe for success.[36]

Once more, however, the Kleins’ business fortune also hinged on a fortuitous blend of hard work and good timing. World War I had started only a few weeks before the company was officially incorporated. It was this war that helped complete the milk chocolate bar’s successful conquest of the American consumer market. Again, Milton Hershey led the way. The military needed quick, high-calorie snacks for its soldiers and, using milk powder, Hershey was able to provide almost nonperishable, sugary chocolate bars even before the United States had officially entered the war.[37] Earning millions on government contracts, Hershey marketed his chocolate bars as patriotic commodities to consumers wishing to show their support of the troops. Klein Chocolate went into business with the government as well, though the scale of their transactions never reached that of Hershey’s multi-million-dollar contracts. According to a 1919 U.S. government contract (#10504), the Klein Chocolate Company was awarded an order for chocolate worth $102,000 (2010: $1.29 million in 2010 dollars). Overall, Klein shipped about “twenty million milk chocolate almond bars to American servicemen and women.”[38]

Beyond direct orders from the government, the Kleins also profited from the increasing popularity of the chocolate bar. When the soldiers returned to the United States, their appetite for candy bars kicked off a nationwide increase in demand and countless manufacturers threw their products on the market. Besides almond bars, Klein produced peanut lunch bars and flat cakes. In Chicago, the Curtiss Company introduced its Baby Ruth candy bar in 1920 and Butterfinger in 1926. Mars started manufacturing the popular Milky Way in 1923. But most of the roughly 30,000 candy bars produced during the 1920s remained local and disappeared within the decade.[39]

Not so the Kleins. Their particular niche was quality paired with a low price. Instead of using milk powder, like Hershey, the Klein Chocolate Company stressed its use of real, Lancaster County milk. Theirs, the Klein marketing claimed, was the “Milkiest Kind of Milk Chocolate.” “The dealer wants you to taste this genuine milk chocolate,” one 1926 Klein ad announced, “the most delicious in all the world… made with rich creamy milk from Pennsylvania’s prize dairy herds.”[40] At five cents a bar (later dropped to three cents, or roughly 50 cents in 2010), Klein’s Lunch Bar could also compete with Hershey in price. Hershey products like the Milk Chocolate Bar or the Mr. Goodbar ranged from three to five cents in the 1920s. To offer an affordable, high-quality product was as appealing an opportunity then as it is today, though the context was different in the early decades of the twentieth century. In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle had alerted Americans to the downside of industrial food production. Klein Chocolate’s imagery of peacefully grazing cows in Pennsylvania pastures appealed to wary American consumers, assuring them that its bars were produced under different circumstances. “ONLY the best ingredients at their best – fresh milk, choicest chocolate, finest sugar are good enough for Klein's Almond Sweet Milk Chocolate,” one 1919advertisement promised. “This delicious candy is also a clean candy, because made in a new daylight factory under appetisingly [sic] sanitary conditions. Then, that you may enjoy its flavor and goodness while still fresh and tempting, it is shipped by our Special Motor Truck Delivery Service and supplied to your dealer immediately.”[41]

Moreover, during the 1920s and 1930s labor disputes and political radicalism began to pose a direct challenge to the very foundation of American capitalism.[42] Klein marketing offered a countering vision of paternal leadership, in which the Klein family did not merely give their name to the product but shepherded the company and its employees as benevolent leaders. To be fair, compared to the visions of grandeur designed by their mentor Milton Hershey in his eponymous company town, the Kleins settled on a number of less ambitious corporate amenities that provided workers with a sense of pride and belonging. These included the public athletic field built by William Klein (see also the section on “Social Status” below) and smaller activities such as dances and day trips organized and paid for by the Kleins. But the most enduring of these efforts was the Klein Chocolate Company Relief Association, which was established on March 29, 1923 and provided Klein employees with benefits like sickness pay and life insurance. The Association operated until an insurance plan by an outside provider replaced it in 1961.[43]

While such philosophical questions about quality and employee care defined the face of the company for years to come, its economic success was also due to the business savvy of its founders, who carefully selected the right location for their plant. In 1913, Elizabethtown was a growing industrial town located at the end points of the Hershey Transit Trolley and the Conestoga Traction Trolley, which connected Elizabethtown and Lancaster. Moreover, the site the Kleins picked for their factory was in close vicinity to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line linking Philadelphia and Pittsburgh via the nearby state capital, Harrisburg. Equally important, Elizabethtown was within a vast rural landscape of hard-working Mennonite dairy farmers ready to sell their milk to the Klein brothers. Not coincidentally, other chocolate companies were founded in the area during that same time, for example the York-based D.E. Wolfgang Candy Company (established in 1921) and Wilbur Chocolate in Lititz, Pa (established in 1884). To this day, Wilbur produces its famous Wilbur Buds (introduced in 1894) on site in Lititz.[44]

Whatever the exact reason for the success, business was booming and the Kleins were expanding. Only two years after its founding, in 1915, Frederick and William moved out of their shop on Market Street and built their first factory on the same location; M&M Mars still produces chocolate there today. The three-story building tripled the floor space and, at more than 20,000 square feet, the lot was intended to be large enough to encompass future expansions.[45] By the late 1910s, however, even this space proved too small for Klein’s growing operations. By 1919 sales amounted to $1,522,000 (about $219.2 million in 2010 dollars) and it was estimated sales would be twice as high in 1920.[46] One year later, Klein had expanded yet again, making a vast addition to its original factory with more than 130,000 square feet floor space and brand new machinery that had the capacity to produce twenty tons of chocolate per day. The Lititz Recorder reported: “The company is now located in one of the finest factory buildings in the state.” Sixteen hundred cattle on roughly 200 farms in the Elizabethtown area provided 800,000 pounds of milk every month to accommodate Klein’s ever-increasing needs. The Klein brothers had established branch offices and warehouses across the East Coast, in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and in the Midwest, in Chicago and St. Louis. In 1922, as the historian Richard K. MacMaster noted, “their Elizabethtown plant was the largest milk chocolate factory in the country… They employed 200 people at that time to produce 250,000 chocolate bars a day.”[47]

An interesting episode from that period of prosperity and expansion survives in the reports of the U.S. Supreme Court. During the 1920s and 1930s, many chocolate manufacturers attempted to brand their products as food, mostly for advertising reasons, but also because of a federal candy tax instituted through the Revenue Act of 1918. To pay for World War I, the U.S. Congress had looked to candy as a source of revenue and imposed a ten percent tax on its sales. In an ongoing struggle, chocolate makers like Baker, Hershey and Klein claimed that chocolate was indeed different. While today’s consumers would likely assume the “Lunch Bar” to be an after-lunch snack, during the 1930s the name attempted to suggest a literal lunch. One of Klein’s competitors, the Curtiss Candy Company thus advertised that its chocolate bar “Baby Ruth makes a light lunch more invigorating that a heavier meal; a way to make lunches more delightful, and save money, too.”[48] Similarly, one Klein advertisement argued that “besides being a dainty and delicious confection [the Cream Nut Almond Bar] is a muscle building, brain building food for grown ups as well as for youngsters.”[49] In 1931, Klein, in a joint appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court with the Hershey and York Chocolate companies, pursued this argument and attempted to recover previously paid candy taxes on the grounds that “the articles sold are not ‘candy’” but “that chocolate is food and candy is not, and hence chocolate cannot be properly described as candy.” The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument, citing an earlier case it had decided against the Walter Baker Company. If sugar was added, Justice Harlan Stone wrote, chocolates were “intended for taste gratifying consumption,” which was “quite as important in determining whether they are candy as their particular composition.”[50]

Little is known about the company’s subsequent development, not least because Klein Chocolate never published an official history and its archives were destroyed in the 1971 sale.[51] Due to low sugar prices, which made candy products particularly affordable, many chocolate companies were able to withstand the worst of the Great Depression. And Klein’s three-cent Lunch Bar would certainly have appealed to less affluent consumers. Nonetheless, there is also some evidence that Klein struggled during the 1930s. John C. McLain, a former Hershey executive, who temporarily worked at Klein Chocolate until 1930, recalled how the company’s declining profits and pressing debt prompted him to return to Milton Hershey, who even considered buying the Klein Chocolate Company. According to McClain, when Hershey offered $855,000 ($11 million in 2010 dollars) for Klein Chocolate, “Fred [Klein] would not sell, and the thing fell through… Bill would have sold. Finally Bill bought Fred out.”[52] Unfortunately, the lack of documentation from that era prevents us from resolving the contradiction contained within that statement. Why did Bill want to sell? What made him change his mind? And what made Fred give up his share even though he initially declined to sell? Though it is not entirely clear exactly when and under what circumstances Frederick eventually left the Klein Chocolate Company for good, William’s increasing dominance in the company’s affairs was hard to overlook.[53] By 1963, an anniversary booklet celebrating Klein Chocolate’s fifty years in business completely omitted mention of Frederick and names only William as the company’s founder.

In 1933, William, Jr. joined the business. Beginning as a trainee, he became the company’s vice president in 1941 and assumed his father’s responsibilities as secretary, general manager, and treasurer after William Sr.’s death in 1954. In 1963, William Klein, Jr. became the company’s president until he sold the company in 1970. That year, as Klein celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the company’s expanded portfolio still included the three-cent Lunch Bar. But Klein also manufactured mint wafers, coconut pralines, butterscotch chocolates and a variety of smaller chocolates that sold at a penny each.[54] During the tenure of William Klein, Jr., the company’s plant size further increased and automation and data processing ensured the efficient work processes of 350 employees.[55] Nonetheless, Klein remained small in comparison to larger competitors such as Hershey, whose operations employed nearly 5,000 workers as early as the late 1930s.[56]

Today, the most enduring legacy of the Klein Chocolate Company to Elizabethtown is the factory that continues to overlook the town and employ its people, though under the ownership of M&M Mars. Apparently, with milk farmers aplenty, Lancaster County continues to be a good place to produce milk chocolate. Some local customs have also survived, such as the tradition of passing out free chocolate for voters on Election Day.[57] The small Elizabethtown Historical Society does an admirable job of preserving the history that helped grow the town through various lecture series, walking tours and exhibitions that guide visitors back into the days when William Klein and his brother Frederick set out to become entrepreneurs.

Social Status, Networks, Family and Public Life

Klein Chocolate was a family business from the start—but not a German one. With anti-German sentiments reaching their apex precisely when the company’s healthy growth created the foundation for its long-time prosperity, nothing would have been more detrimental than any public declarations in favor of the Heimat. After World War I, while vocal German-American organizations attempted to reestablish the reputation of the “German element,” the Klein Chocolate Company publicly cooperated with the American Legion, a veterans’ organization devoted to “100-percent Americanism” that often clashed with German ethnic nationalists in the United States and with other immigrant groups. According to historian Christopher Capozzola, the American Legion was “the nation’s largest postwar vigilance organization.” In December 1920 the Legion’s Elizabethtown chapter found a permanent home in one of Klein’s buildings and held regular meetings there.[58] Only later, in the 1960s, did the Klein Chocolate Company attempt to cash in on ethnic revivals and third-generation nostalgia across the country, when it advertised its products as traditional delicacies, declaring “At Klein, Pennsy German chocolate craftsmen have captured the hand-made goodness of yesteryear.”[59]

Despite the fact that German heritage played little to no public role in their lives as entrepreneurs, the Kleins initially valued family and employed their relatives or provided for their financial well-being. William’s half-brother Herman worked for Klein in Elizabethtown during the 1920s and 1930s and between 1921 and 1925, the Kleins even attempted to start a second business, the Klein Brothers Milk Chocolate Company, in Denver, Pennsylvania (roughly 30 miles east of Elizabethtown). Among the subscribers to the capital stock of this company were the Kleins’ younger brother Paul and one “A.C. Klein,” very likely Albert C. Klein, their eldest half-brother from their father’s first marriage.[60] Even though the venture was short-lived (the exact circumstances are unknown), the attempt to include the brothers in the business expansion speaks to a commitment to preserve the family bonds—at least in the first years of the company.

But although Klein Chocolate remained in family hands until its sale in 1970, those bonds eventually ruptured. As William took over control of the company, other family members, most notably his brother Frederick, withdrew from its operations, and it seems that there was little contact between the two brothers in later life. As discussed above, Frederick even disappeared from the official business narrative.[61] The sisters, too, played little to no role in the company in later life. Like Milton Hershey, William Klein emerged as the sole patriarch, uniting in himself the role of business owner and local benefactor. He served as the director of Elizabethtown’s local bank, was an active Freemason and a member of the Elizabethtown Rotary, and also belonged to country clubs in Lancaster and Lebanon. He supported the Republican Party, though he never actively engaged in politics or ran for office.[62]

His most impressive (and arguably most American) engagement, however, was baseball. William Klein loved the sport and served as the Hershey baseball team manager between 1905 and 1912.[63] The Klein Chocolate Company had its own team and frequently competed against other local teams. In 1918, Klein found a way to combine his love for the sport with the business interests of the company. The Kleins longed for a national market and when William noticed that many major-league baseball teams rode through Elizabethtown on the Pennsylvania Railroad on their way to and from the East Coast, he came up with an ingenious plan: Klein would convince team managers to make a stop in Elizabethtown and play the Klein Chocolate baseball team. To sweeten the deal, Klein would pay for dinners, put them up for the night and share the ticket profits with the managers, providing extra income at a time when baseball was not the multi-billion-dollar business it is today.

That alone would not make Klein Chocolate a nationally known brand, of course. What the business needed was a team that could win.

So William Klein set out to form a team that could do just that. He recruited former major and minor leaguers who had just returned from World War I, gave them full-time employment and provided them with an opportunity to play baseball. What followed was a quite remarkable and largely unknown piece of American baseball history: during the summer and fall of 1919, the Klein Chocolate team played eight games against some of the best teams in the country—and won six. In one week in late September, 1919, Klein Chocolate defeated three teams from the major leagues in a row, a record “probably never before equaled in the history of baseball.” Among those games was a shutout of the Boston Red Sox, 4–0. That night, “Babe Ruth pitched, but could not hold the redoubtable independents in check. Moreover, Ruth, who just recently beat all big league home-run records, couldn’t make a hit off [Klein pitcher] Bill Ritter.” Stung by the unexpected defeat the Red Sox spent an extra night in Elizabethtown to redeem themselves the next day.[64]

After that summer, every sports fan east of the Mississippi had heard the name Klein Chocolate, which “furnishes the most remarkable baseball band in the country,” according to the Lititz Recorder. “The dazzling conquests of the Klein Chocolate team have attracted attention all over the country.”[65] Even though it was eventually the quality and the price of their product that ensured long-term success, it may well have been this spectacular series of victories that helped gain Klein Chocolate the national prominence that William Klein craved.


Some images speak for themselves. William Klein rarely looked happy and relaxed, but rather presented himself as the hard-working, single-minded entrepreneur that he was. An early riser, he is said to have appeared at his desk around six in the morning and to have spent his workdays controlling every aspect of the company’s development, especially after his brother Frederick had surrendered his position in the leadership.[66] Aside from the chocolate factory that was a testament to William Klein’s personal ambition and the baseball team that continues to be a local legend, small stories still circulating in and around Elizabethtown speak to the determination driving this unique entrepreneur. For example, Klein once constructed a six-hole golf course on the company grounds after failing to convince the town elders to build one for the community. Leaving his office in the early afternoon, he would often play eighteen holes before dinner.[67] At the same time, a series of personal tragedies—the early death of his wife as well as, later in life, a difficult relationship with both his brother and son—testified to the truism that money alone cannot buy happiness.

There is no doubt that William Klein and his brother Frederick were in many ways German-American entrepreneurs. They grew up in a German-language home, embraced many of its traditions and prospered by adopting a work ethic encouraged in that home, in church, and on the streets of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. However, many questions about how exactly their German heritage helped them succeed in the United States and how it influenced the ways in which they conducted their everyday business remain unanswered. Was it merely the wish to be independent or a peculiar European desire for high-quality milk chocolate that drove the Klein brothers to exceed their mentor Milton Hershey? Were the Klein recipes a tribute to that Old World tradition? Were there any interactions between the Kleins and other German-American or German chocolate makers? What did they think about developments back home throughout the first half of the twentieth century? And did they stay in touch with family in Germany?

Some records that may well have helped to answer such questions could not be evaluated for this article.[68] Others may wait to be discovered for future research. But even despite such omissions, the history of the Klein Chocolate Company can serve as a quintessential example of the possibilities that awaited immigrants with an entrepreneurial mind during a time when the American mass consumer market was just beginning to take shape. Hardworking, self-made, and passionate, William and Frederick Klein embodied the stereotypical dream that defines the culture of the United States to this day. As successful entrepreneurs, they left their imprint on the community that thrived not least because of their devotion. William and Frederick Klein built a small chocolate empire—and they never looked back at the country where their family’s voyage began in poverty. As such, the story of the Klein family also reminds us of the connections to the past that could get lost, when financial success and the bottom line became the main prerogatives.


[1] I am very grateful for the support I received during my research from Fran Strouse at the Elizabethtown Historical Society as well as the team of the Lancaster County Historical Society. Special thanks to William Klein III, who shared many private stories and photographs and made them available for publication here.

[2] A Google search for “Klein Lunch Bar” produces several links to forums where nostalgic former consumers reminisce about the Lunch Bar. See, for example, the comments at Samara Kawash, “Candy Lunch Bars,” Candy Professor, Nov. 9, 2009, accessed June 18, 2013.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all personal data referred to in this article was available via common providers such as http://www.familysearch.org or http://www.ancestry.com. Further archival research was conducted by the author at the Lancaster County Historical Society (LCHS), the Elizabethtown Historical Society (LHS), and the Hershey Community Archives Oral History Collection (HCAOHC).

[4] Mack Walker, Germany and the Emigration: 1816–1885 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), 180–191.

[5] The age, origins and even the name of Veronica Heycke are hard to determine definitively. Her case is a textbook example of why immigration and census records should be read with great care. Her emigration documents from Hamburg, Germany suggest that she was born in 1865 or 1866. Her 1889 wedding certificate from Lancaster, Pennsylvania lists “Veronica Heika” as 26 years old, implying she was born in 1862 or 1863. In the 1900 census, the wife of Gottfried is listed as “Mary,” born in June 1859. In 1910 the name of Gottfried’s wife is given as “Veina” or perhaps “Verna,” age 52. The date of immigration listed is “1880” and the duration of the marriage as 28 years, suggesting a wedding about 1882. In 1920, she appears as “Verna” (age: 64; immigration: 1883). The 1920 census also contains a hint that the elder Kleins may have been naturalized in 1888). By 1930, we are back to “Veronica,” age “74,” with the year of immigration “1883.”

[6] Orphan’s Court Office, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, license No. 4042 (1889). Copy in the author’s possession. The notice “house desertion” suggests that Klein may have claimed his former wife had deserted her husband and children, which would have been sufficient grounds for him to remarry. Whether or not that was actually the case is, of course, hard to verify.

[7] Apart from census records, these professions are listed in the Lancaster County directories between 1884 and the early 1900s. They are available online via http://www.lancasterhistory.org.

[8] Hermann continued to live and work in Lancaster as a chemist, but later relocated to Elizabethtown to work in the chocolate factory (Lancaster City Directory 1913/14, 572; 1930 Census).

[9] The family is still listed as Lancaster residents in the 1903 directory, even though William’s profession already appears as “chocolatemkr.” (Lancaster City Directory, 1903/4, 472).

[10] There is a lot of literature on 100%-Americanism. A good starting point is Christopher Capozzola’s book on Americanism and World War I, with a chapter devoted to German-Americans: Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[11] For the most recent discussion of that transition, see Russell Kazal, Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004), 130–148.

[12] “William Klein,” Cyclopedia of American Biography [hereafterCAB] (New York: James T. White, 1967), vol. 47, 469. See also the section on “Business Development” below.

[13] The 1900 and 1910 censuses both record Gottfried’s inability to communicate in English.

[14] “Klein-Treichler,”Hershey Press, January 13, 1916, 8. The so-called “double ring ceremony”, in which partners exchange rings, was still extremely rare in the 1910s and only become common after World War II. Frederick married Jane Brinser (1898–1995), whose father worked as an engineer at the Elizabethtown electric plant.

[15] “Locals,”Hershey Press, June 20, 1912, 7; “Locals,” Hershey Press, Oct. 17, 1912, 7; “Elizabethtown,”Hershey Press, August 14, 1924, 3. On how exactly these organizations achieved that immersion around World War I, see Emily Hamilton-Honey, Turning the Pages of American Girlhood: The Evolution of Girls’ Series Fiction, 1865–1930 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013), 104–200; Rebekah E. Revzin, “American Girlhood in the Early Twentieth Century: The Ideology of Girl Scout Literature, 1913–1930,” Library Quarterly 68.3 (July, 1998): 261–275.

[16] Lancaster City Directory 1884/5, 182.

[17] This story is briefly recounted in the booklet Klein Chocolate Company: Fiftieth Anniversary 1913–1963, in folder “Chocolate Industry,” Information Files, LCHS. The Cyclopedia of American Biography article states that Klein did not start working with Hershey until 1896. See CAB 47:469.

[18] Michael D’Antonio, Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 95. See also Rodney Snyder, Bradley Foliart Olsen, and Laura Palllas Brindle, “From Stone Metates to Steel Mills: The Evolution of Chocolate Manufacturing,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, Heritage, ed. Louis Grivetti (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley, 2009), 611–624, here 620.

[19] D’Antonio, Hershey’s Extraordinary Life, 95; William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765–1914 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 78; Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars (New York: Random House, 1999), 106.

[20] Brenner,Emperors of Chocolate, 86–91.

[21] D’Antonio, Hershey’s Extraordinary Life, 95.

[22] D’Antonio,Hershey’s Extraordinary Life, 95.

[23] Snyder et al., “From Stone Metates to Steel Mills,” 620; email, William Klein III to author, June 4, 2013.

[24] Snyder et al., “From Stone Metates to Steel Mills,” 620; D’Antonio, Hershey’s Extraordinary Life, 108.

[25] Oral History interview with George Bowman, 1982, #89OH79, HCAOHC, pp. 3–4.

[26] Bowman interview, HCAOHC, 4.

[27] See, for example, “Mars Family Shrouded in Mystery,” Elizabethtown Chronicle, Jan. 27, 1982, no page number.

[28] D’Antonio, Hershey’s Extraordinary Life, 184.

[29] John McLain interview, p. 17, folder 21, box 3, Paul Webster Research Collection (Hershey Community Archives, Hershey, Pa.).

[30] Hershey Press, Nov 14, 1912, 7. This and other similar calculations were generated by Measuring Worth using the Purchasing Power Calculator for a given year and comparing it with the 2010 value.

[31] Bowman interview, HCAOHC, 8.

[32] Klein Chocolate Company: Fiftieth Anniversary booklet, LCHS.

[33] Confectioners Gazette 35 (October 10, 1913), 36. Patented under Serial No. 75,705. The Klein Chocolate Company ran into a legal issue in 1917 when the company was fined $10 by the Food and Drug Administration for mislabeling the product, which rather contained “a combination of chocolate, sugar, milk, and a certain fat or fats foreign to said substances.”

[34] “Klein Chocolate Co.,” Confectioners’ Gazette, Feb. 10, 1920; Alphabetical List of Charters of Corporations (Harrisburg, Pa.: William Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1915), 86; Richard K. MacMaster, Elizabethtown: The First Three Centuries (Elizabethtown, Pa.: Elizabethtown Historical Society, 1999), 172.

[35] CAB 47:469; author’s conversation with Fran Strouse, EHS, June 14, 2013.

[36] Because Klein Chocolate was eventually bought up by M&M Mars, many details about the company’s structure and processes were lost when its archives were dissolved in the 1970s.

[37] Brenner, Emperors of Chocolate, 8, 137–138.

[38] U.S. House of Representatives, War Expenditures: Hearings Before the Select Committee on Expenditures in the War Department (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919), 1557; MacMaster,Elizabethtown, 173.

[39] Kathleen Morgan Drowne and Patrick Huber, The 1920s (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004), 135–137.

[40] Klein Chocolate advertisement, Reading Eagle, Oct. 4, 1926, 8.

[41] Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, July 31, 1919, 15.

[42] For a good overview of the period, see Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), especially chapters 2 and 3; Charles McGovern, Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), especially chapters 2, 3, and 9.

[43] MacMaster, Elizabethtown, 173–174, and “By Laws and Rules of the Klein Chocolate Company Relief Association,” display at the Elizabethtown Historical Society, Elizabethtown, Pa. See also: “Elizabethtown to Celebrate Completion of Sewer System,” Hershey Press, March 12, 1925, 2 (the article describes the details of the insurance plan); “Elizabethtown,” Hershey Press June 12, 1919, 7.

[44] It should be noted that Pennsylvania had been home to chocolate makers long before the Hersheys, Kleins, and Wilburs set up shop. Kimberly Marselas, “Pennsylvania Loves Its Chocolate,” Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Sep. 26, 2012, accessed June 28, 2013.

[45] Confectioners Gazette, Jan. 10, 1915, 32.

[46] Confectioners Gazette, Feb. 10, 1920, 16.

[47] “Rubbed Alladin’s [sic] Lamp: Klein Brothers’ Success Reads Like a Story in a Book,” Lititz Reporter, Jan. 15, 1920, 2; “Klein Chocolate Co.,” Confectioners Gazette, Feb. 10, 1920; MacMaster, Elizabethtown, 173.

[48] “Candy,” in The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, ed. William H. Young and Nancy K. Young (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007), 79–81. See also the biography of Curtiss founder Otto Y. Schnering, written by Samantha Chmelik, available at http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entries/otto-y-schnering/.

[49] Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, May 29, 1919, 6.

[50] McCaughan v. Hershey Chocolate Co., 283 U.S. 488, 51 S. Ct. 510.

[51] Email, William Klein III to author, June 7, 2013.

[52] McClain interview, HCAOHC; parentheses in original.

[53] In the 1940 census Frederick’s profession still appears as “Superendant” [sic] at “Klein Choc.”

[54] Klein Chocolate Company: Fiftieth Anniversary booklet, LCHS.

[55] “William Klein, Jr.,” Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 57, 509.

[56] Joseph Richard Snavely, The Hershey Story (Hershey, Pa.: 1950), 316.

[57] Author’s conversation with Fran Strouse, EHS, June 14, 2013.

[58] “Elizabethtown News,” Hershey Press, Dec. 12, 1920, 7 and “Elizabethtown News,” Hershey Press, May 12, 1921, 7; Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You, 210–212, quote on 211. I discuss the relationship between the American Legion and German-American groups in more detail in a chapter of my forthcoming dissertation, tentatively titled “Between Third Reich and American Way: Transatlantic Migration and the Politics of Belonging, 1919–1939,” Ph. D. diss. (College of William and Mary), especially chapter 5.

[59] Klein Chocolate advertisement, New York Times, Nov. 28, 1965, E6.

[60] “Elizabethtown News,” Hershey Press, May 19, 1921, 7.

[61] Klein Chocolate Company: Fiftieth Anniversary booklet, LCHS.

[62] CAB 47:469. Email, William Klein III to author, June 26, 2013.

[63] CAB 47:469. The local Elizabethtown historian Fran Strouse even argues that Klein convinced Hershey to start up the team in the first place. Author’s conversation with Fran Strouse, EHS, June 14, 2013.

[64] “A Remarkable Record,” Lititz Recorder, Oct. 9, 1919, 3. See also: “Sets Good Record,” Washington Times, Oct. 6, 1919. During that summer the Klein team beat the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Athletics (twice), the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox, while falling to the Red Sox in a second game and losing to the Cincinnati Reds.

[65] “A Remarkable Record,” 3; “Klein Team Shuts Out Red Sox, 4 To 0,” Boston Daily Globe, Sep. 26, 1919, 11.

[66] Author’s conversation with Fran Strouse, EHS, June 14, 2013.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Some old company ledgers and family documents remain in the old Klein estate on North Market Street just outside Elizabethtown. The current owners did not respond to a request to assess that material. Moreover, the local Elizabethtown newspaper is stored at Elizabethtown College, but has not yet been made available in an electronic format. The complete evaluation of that newspaper would have been beyond the scope of this project.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title William Klein
  • Coverage 1884-1954
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018