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Pennsylvania Historic Figures

Milton Hershey
1857-1945: Candy manufacturer, philanthropist; born in Derry Township, Pa. His father moved so frequently, Milton attended seven schools in eight years, never progressing beyond grade four. He apprenticed to a Lancaster, Pa., confectioner (1872--76) and then opened his own candy store in Philadelphia. By 1886 he was back in Lancaster where he soon found success making caramels using fresh milk but by 1900 had sold his caramel business to concentrate on chocolate. In 1903 he built a factory near his birthplace to manufacture five-cent chocolate bars; the business so prospered that "Hershey" became virtually synonymous with chocolate in the U.S.A. and he branched out to dominate the cocoa and syrup markets. In order to maintain his constantly expanding need for reliable workers, he began to build a complete town near the factory, including stores, schools, recreational facilities, and a large amusement park. In 1909 he built a trade school for orphan boys. Although often criticized for his paternalism and for running a "company town," he did expand the town's building program during the 1930s depression and he left his vast fortune to various philanthropies including a medical center.
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James Buchanan
1791-1868: Fifteenth US president, born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, USA. Building on a successful law career, he entered politics and served as a Federalist in the Pennsylvania legislature (1815--17) and the US House of Representatives (1821--31), where he went over to the Democratic Party. In 1832--3 he served as ambassador to Russia and returned to serve Pennsylvania in the US Senate (1834--45) until becoming a most effective secretary of state under President Polk (1845--9). After a period of retirement and as ambassador to Great Britain (1854--6), he showed a willingness to accommodate slavery that gained him the presidency in 1856 with the solid backing of the South. During his term (1857--61) he supported laws protecting slavery in the attempt to establish Kansas as a slave state; when pressed by antislavery Americans, he fell back on narrow legal defences such as the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision (1857). All this split the Democratic Party, allowing Lincoln to win the election of 1860. As a "lame duck' president, Buchanan professed the government's helplessness to prevent secession and turned the problem over to his successor. He returned to his Pennsylvania estate but he did support Lincoln throughout the war.
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Daniel Boone
1734-1820: Frontiersman, born near Reading, Pennsylvania, USA. His parents were Quakers. He learned to hunt and trap by the age of 12. He moved with his family to North Carolina (1750--1) and in 1755 he took part in General Braddock's disastrous campaign, where he met John Finley, a hunter who told him stories of the Kentucky wilderness. He explored in Kentucky (1767--8, 1769--71) and led the first settlers there in 1775. He founded Boonesborough, a fortified settlement. He was captured by Shawnee Indians (1778) but escaped in time to defend Boonesborough against an Indian attack. Later, his claims to large tracts of Kentucky lands were not validated and he moved to West Virginia (1788), and then to present-day Missouri (1799) where he remained until his death. He has retained his place as the archetypal American frontiersman.
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Betsy Ross
1752-1836: Seamstress; born in Philadelphia. Although she was a well-known seamstress and the official flagmaker for the Pennsylvania Navy, there is no real evidence that she designed or made the first flag of the United States (in 1776). The story was first told in 1870 by a grandson.
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Robert E. Peary
1856-1920: Explorer, naval officer; born in Cresson, Pa. He graduated from Bowdoin College and joined the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1879. He surveyed a proposed ship canal through Nicaragua (1884--88) and began his Arctic journeys during a six-month leave in 1886. He traveled through Greenland (1891, 1893--95, 1896, 1897) and then named the North Pole as his goal. He surveyed northern routes and passages (1898--1902) and sledged to within 175 miles of the Pole in 1906. On his final Arctic journey (1908--09), he, Matthew Henson, and four Eskimos reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. On returning to the U.S.A. he learned that Frederick A. Cook claimed to have reached the Pole one year earlier. Peary's claim was eventually vindicated and he received the thanks of Congress and the rank of rear admiral. He became interested in aviation and organized the National Aerial Coast Patrol Commission at the start of World War I. In the 1980s it was revealed that he and Matthew Henson had fathered children by Eskimo women during their years in the Arctic.
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