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Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Harry Burnett Reese created one of the most beloved candy brands of all-time with his invention of what is now known around the world as Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the 1920s. Born in Frosty Hill, in York County, Pennsylvania, on May 24, 1879, Reese, known to most as "HB," grew up working on a farm, was married around 1900, and went on to have 16 children.


The enterprising young man was constantly in search of more lucrative opportunities in order to support his growing family, and is said to have worked a number of odd jobs in his teens, twenties and thirties, such as salesman and butcher. In 1903, he moved his family from Frosty Hill to Woodbine, also in York County, where he was put to work on his father-in-law's farm. He managed the farming and milking for several years, until he decided to move once more, this time to Shrewsbury, Penn. He took a factory job in nearby New Freedom, Pa., where he reportedly worked until 1917.

That year Reese's life would begin to change dramatically. He spotted an employment advertisement placed by the Hershey family, of Hershey's chocolate fame, and was hired to work the Hersheys' dairy farm in Hershey, Pa. Soon Reese was promoted, but not long after that, the Hersheys decided to close their dairy farm and Reese was forced to look for work anew.

He moved his family to Spring Grove, Pa., where he found work in a paper mill. This move was temporary, however. He would move back to Hershey, Pa., to take a job in the Hershey chocolate factory within a couple of years.

While working there, Reese caught the candy bug himself, and began making his own candy creations in his basement with the hope of selling the treats to earn extra cash to support his large brood. He named some of his candies for his children, like the "Lizzie" bar, and the "Johnny" bar, and used fresh ingredients such as creamery butter, honey, nuts, coconut and of course, chocolate, some of which he purchased from the Hershey Chocolate Company.

He found notable success locally with his candy and began taking it ever more seriously, setting up his own company, the H.B. Reese Candy Company, in the 1920s. At the start of that decade he first began peddling chocolate-peanut butter creations he called, simply, peanut butter cups, or penny cups, because they sold for one cent each. He also sold them in five-pound boxes for inclusion in retailers' candy assortments.

Around World War II, Reese decided to focus solely on peanut butter cups, his most popular offering. During the 1940s and 1950s, he saw a surge in popularity for his signature candy, and soon he realized that he needed to build a high-volume production facility. His 100,000 square foot manufacturing plant opened on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pa., in August of 1957. By then his candy was being distributed in its familiar orange, yellow and brown wrapping, through wholesalers, chain stores and vending machine firms.

Reese, who, with his large family was well on his way to becoming a prosperous and well-respected entrepreneur, died suddenly of a heart attack in West Palm Beach, Fla., on May 16, 1956. Just a few years later, in 1963, the Hershey Chocolate Company, known today as Hershey Foods Corporation, purchased the H.B. Reese Candy Company for $23.5 million when six of Reese's sons decided to sell the firm.

Under the Hershey umbrella, the Reese's franchise has continued to thrive and expand, with new products bearing the brand appearing on store shelves all the time, including peanut butter, baking bits and Reese's Pieces. Reese's Peanut Butter Cup varieties have expanded to include miniatures, "Big Cups," white and dark chocolate editions, a caramel version, an inside-out version, and a honey roasted variety. The candy ranks consistently among the top ten most popular chocolate bars in the world, and is available in thousands of retail stores in countries worldwide.

[August 2006]

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