HB Reese – Creator of the #1 Selling Candy Brand In The United States

HB Reese Early life

Harry Burnett “HB Reese” was born May 24, 1879, in Frosty Hill, PA. He was raised on a farm and, as an adult, worked as a farmer. He was ambitious and hard-working as a kid. From a young age, he worked the land and milked cows. Reese loved music very much. He even mastered the French horn, and in his late teens, he played in a local band. By 1900, Reese married Blanche Edna Hyson, daughter of a well-to-do family in Bridgeton (York County), Pennsylvania. She came from a wealthy family, and it really helped him later in his difficult times.

“The support H.B. received from his father-in-law played a big part in his family’s early survival,” writes Reese’s grandson, Andrew. They definitely needed help because of their fast-growing family. H.B. and Blanche would eventually have 16 children: 8 girls, and 8 boys. So, not surprisingly, it wasn’t easy for him to support his big family. He had to take on all manner of jobs, from butcher to factory worker, but still, he couldn’t provide enough money.

HB Reese Creator of the N1 selling candy brand in the United States

HB Reese First Steps in the Candy Business 

HB Reese moved frequently during the first couple of decades. In 1912, HB Reese moved his family to a dairy farm in Woodbine, located near his father-in-law’s general store. Finally, in 1917, he started working at one of Milton Hersheys dairy farms and later moved to a chocolate factory.

HB Reese there realized that the candy industry had great potential, but the experimental Round Barn facility closed in 1919 and he was left without a job. He knew he had to do something and finally opened the R&R Candy Company in Hummelstown. At first, he made chocolate almonds and raisins, but it didn’t work and the business failed.

Finally, he ended up back at Hershey, and this time, because of his hard work and work ethic, he was promoted as foreman, but he knew it wasn’t enough for him and his big family. Money was tight and Reese took on second and sometimes third jobs to support his family, he didn’t stop thinking about new ways of earning money.

Working at The Chocolate factory shaped his whole future and inspired him to his new ideas about candy making. Milton Hershey and HB Reese got to know each other and began a lifelong friendship. Reese learned that Hershey made $75 a minute, and the younger man thought of starting his own candy business. 

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He set out to make his own candy in the basement, and he didn’t even imagine the success it would have in later times. He was actually trying to provide a little extra money for his family. As mentioned, he started creating confections in the basement of his house, and he named bars and candies after his children. For his bars, He used fresh ingredients and a large quantity of Hershey’s chocolate. He made sure to make the sweets with real cocoa butter, cream, freshly grated coconut, and freshly roasted peanuts. He believed in the power of quality and he followed it step by step. 

Success after a Chain of Failures

The first products HB Reese produced were Johnny and Lizzie bars, also made with Hershey chocolate. Reese’s enterprise was doing much better than expected – its sales were growing, candies were selling very successfully to the local market, and in 1923, Reese was able to quit his job at Hershey’s.

He knew that it was an opportunity for him and his big family and took the candy-making business more seriously. As a result, he set up the H.B. Reese Candy Company and, soon after, in 1928, Peanut Butter Cups were invented. He simply called them peanut butter cups or “penny cups” because of their price at the time – one penny each.

They turned out to be so successful that Reese was able to sell five-pound boxes of the cups to local retailers for their candy displays. HB Reese quit his job at the Hershey factory and concentrated on his new successful business, and he reached his biggest goal: the Reese home was finally large enough to accommodate the whole family. 

Interestingly, HB Reese used his impressive family as a marketing tool, and he did it really successfully. In 1928, he published a photograph of the entire family with the caption, “16 Good Reasons to Buy Reese’s.” He knew the value of the family to society and cleverly used it to “manipulate” the market.

Reese also encouraged a sense of family among his employees; he built a fishing lodge that was open to all Reese employees at the cost of a dollar a day. For him, the family was the most important thing, and even his business of candy-making was totally built on his family values. Actually, his devotion to his loved ones is the main reason the world has Reese’s candy today. 

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Friendship as a Strength

Although Reese Candy and Hershey Chocolate Company were both located in Hershey, the two were never competitors. On the contrary, Reese Candy was one of Hershey’s biggest customers. Milton and H.B. became friends since then when HB Reese was still working at Hershey and Hershey supplied all of Reese’s chocolate coating. Milton Hershey was said to keep peanut butter cups on his desk. He was the inspiration for HB Reese, furthermore, their products fulfilled each other, HB Reese used it to produce his candy and Hershey found a new big customer. 

Peanut Butter Cups 

By 1935, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were the most popular and successful product of Reese’s company, so he decided to concentrate on marketing the Peanut Butter Cups as a separate product. In addition, since World War II had a big influence on businesses, Reese had to leave his other product lines due to scarcity of supplies and economic hardship.

The Peanut Butter Cups were packed at $0.05 each and were also marketed in several sizes. By the time H.B.’s company had 62 employees, in addition to his six sons, working at the factory, The assortment of Reese’s candies wasn’t just limited to peanut butter cups, there were also: coconut cream, peppermint cream, chocolate jets, nougat, marshmallow-nut, coated dates, coconut caramel, peanut clusters, etc. 

In the 1970s, a series of ads were run for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The concept was mainly the same two people, one eating peanut butter and one eating chocolate, collided. One person would say, “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” and the other, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”. The idea of the commercial was tied to the slogan, “Two great tastes that taste great together.

One of a Kind  

There were many obstacles in HB Reese’s way, but nothing stopped him. The Great Depression, world wars, poverty, family problems, and other barriers gave him the motivation to push his company’s business growth forward. He was a kind and decent man. A sign on a phone pole outside Reese’s home said that homeless people were welcome to eat there. Reese also helped unemployed people and gave them jobs. 

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All the facts about him underline his good nature. He was friendly toward everyone and created a positive work environment, which was not often done in those times. He was also paying his employees more than the going rate. Chocolate was considered a luxury, yet demand for HB Reese’s products was solid. His grandson, Brad Reese, notes that the announcement made by the company upon HB Reese’s death gave insight into what made him such a great businessman – “His utter devotion, his indomitable will, and his amazing energy have been a constant guide and inspiration.”

HB Reese’s Death and Legacy 

His cup’s popularity was growing rapidly, but unfortunately, HB Reese died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1956 at the age of 77. Seven years later, six of Reese’s sons decided to sell the family business, which was purchased by the Hershey’s Chocolate Company for $23.5 million in 1963. Reese’s was the best-selling candy in the U.S. in 2012 with sales of $2.603 billion and the fourth-best-selling candy brand globally with sales of $2.679 billion. 

Peanut Butter Cups are available in many countries around the world and are enjoyed by millions of people every year. The candy is counted among the top 10 favorite chocolate treats in the U.S. and is the most popular in America. May 18 is the official “I Love Reese’s” Day. Butter Cups are one of the most popular Halloween candies. There are some variations of candies, including “big cups,” miniatures, and “minis,” as well as dark chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, marshmallow, and hazelnut cream flavors. H.B. Reese put together two different tastes and created a sensation. He said a new word in the chocolate business and, importantly, changed the candy industry. 

Interesting Facts:

  • H.B. and Blanche had 16 children—eight girls and eight boys.
  • Reese took on second and sometimes third jobs to support his family.
  • HB Reese started creating confections in the basement of his house, and he named bars and candies after his children.
  • In 1928, Reese published a photograph of the entire family with the caption, “16 Good Reasons to Buy Reese’s.”
  • Peanut Butter Cups were also called “penny cups” because of their price at the time – one penny each.

Reese is buried in the Hershey Cemetery just meters away from Milton Hershey’s grave.

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