HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — Hersheypark, sometimes called The Sweetest Place on Earth, has been in operation since 1906. What started out as a leisure park for Milton Hershey’s employees has turned into a first-class theme park destination for guests from around the world.
But, the park started out very different than the park we know today. The park was created by the founder of the town of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey.
Most of this information is sourced from the website Amusement Parkives, which is full of Hersheypark fun facts and even more history regarding other theme parks as well.
Note: Not every event in the park’s history is covered in this story, but the majority of it has been noted.
The Beginning: 1906-1930
The park, which was called “Hershey Park” opened on May 30, 1906, and on July 4th, 1908, the first ride, a merry-go-round, opened at the park. Soon after, an amphitheater was constructed and was considered one of the most acoustically perfect buildings of its kind. An entrance sign to the building read ” Ye who enter here leave dull cares behind.”
In 1909, the park opened up two bowling alleys, a tennis court, a large bandshell, and a photo gallery. This was the year that the first miniature railway opened, and operated at the park until the 1970s. Over the 60 years it operated, it is estimated the train traveled more than half a million miles.
Between 1912 and 1923, many other attractions were built, including a $15,000 carrousel that was 50 feet in diameter and featured 53 animals including pigs, rabbits, lions, and other animals. The Hershey Zoo was also built during this time, as well as a new Convention Hall which later became the Hershey Museum.
To celebrate the town’s 20th anniversary, Hershey Park constructed “The Wild Cat” in 1923, which was the park’s first roller coaster. Rides that were added during the 1920s include, a small Ferris wheel and the Skooter.
Hershey Park grows: 1930-1960
The 1930s and 1940s brought many rides to the park. The Bug was added in 1933, as well as a fun house. The Mill Chute flume ride was built and The Wild Cat was renovated in 1935, with its hills heightened and curves more steeply banked.
Throughout this time period, each season brought something new to the park, and it was expanded, and by 1945, there were more than two dozen attractions. The original carousel was replaced by a new one which still operates at the park to this day.
In 1946, The Wild Cat was replaced by the Comet, which is also at the park to this day and celebrated 75 years of thrills in 2021. The ride was originally painted green since Hershey loved having his rides blend in with the nature surrounding the park.
Between the years 1950 and 1960, the park added twin Ferris wheels that were both 66 feet high. In 1960, The Dry Gultch Railway was installed.
In the 1960s the park was in a decline. According to Charles Jacques’s book Hersheypark: The Sweetness of Success, even with the addition of the Rotor, Monorail, and other rides, the park was in a state of decline. Decreasing staff members resulted in more litter and vandalism, which was also because the park at that time was ungated. The park would close if there wasn’t a change implemented.
So, after the 1970 season, the park would go under total redevelopment.
Hershey Park becomes Hersheypark 1971-1978
Starting in 1971, a five-year redevelopment plan was introduced. This started with the name change from Hershey Park to Hersheypark, which was introduced that year.
In 1972 the park began to theme areas. Carrousel Circle, Der Deitschplaz and the Animal Gardens. Sadly, that same year, flooding from Hurricane Agnes damaged or destroyed rides such as the Mill Chute, which at that time was called the Lost River and the turnpike attraction lost a few cars. The Hersheypark Aquatheatre opened during this time.
1972 was also the year that the Hershey Sports Arena and Hershey Sports Stadium were renamed Hersheypark Arena and Hersheypark Stadium respectfully.
The pay-as-you-ride policy that was in place since the park opened was changed to a one-price admission plan. In 1973, the park opened up a new amphitheater which was built in the exact same spot as the first one. The venue hosted shows like the Alan Alberts Showcase and Hersheypark Revue.
Also in 1973, two new themed areas are built, Rhineland and Tudor Square. Two new rides were added this year, which were the Giant Wheel and Coal Cracker, the latter is celebrating 50 years in 2023. This year also saw the monorail become an official Hersheypark attraction with it becoming a round-trip ride.
The park saw its Trailblazer coaster open in 1974 near the Animal Gardens section of the park. The coaster opened with a white and green color scheme.
In 1975, the iconic Kissing Tower was built and another themed area called Tower Plaza was built around it. The Twin Turnpike was also built, replacing the older turnpike ride which was located in The Hollow.
In 1977, Hersheypark made history by opening the first looping coaster on the east coast, sooperdooperLooper. The park also states that a new themed area will be introduced come 1978. ZooAmerica will open along with other rides for the 1978 season.
Hersheypark expands even more: 1980-1990
No new coasters were built in the 1980s but expansion was imminent. The Dry Gulch Railway was moved and the track was reconfigured to accommodate a new midway to connect the new area. The Pirate ship was built as well as the now-defunct Cyclops, which the Claw ride now is.
In 1984, the park expands even more, with a new themed area planned called the Old West. this expansion saw rises such as the Conestoga and Timber Rattler. In 1985 this section of the park was renamed Pioneer Frontier, a name which is still around to this day.
1985 saw the addition of many kiddie rides, like Swing Thing, Livery Stables, and Granny Bug. In 1987, the first water ride since 1973 was installed: Canyon River Rapids. In 1988, two new water slides, called the Frontier Chute Out, were added directly across from Canyon River Rapids, and a kiddie water ride was added in 1989.
1990 saw the introduction of Minetown, now called Kissing Tower Hill. This was the year the Flying Falcon was installed, as well as three new kiddie rides. The former Penny Arcade was replaced with the Minetown Arcade and Der Deitschplatz is no more. Tower Plaza merges with Minetown and Comet Hollow has been named. This is also when Music Box Way becomes a themed area.
Growth expands rapidly 1991-1999
The year 1991 saw the first coaster at the park since sooperdooperLooper in 1977. Sidewinder opens in Pioneer Frontier. And in 1994, the last ride added to the area was added which was the world’s largest flume ride, Tidal Force.
In 1996, the last expansion for over a decade opens. Midway America opens with a new coaster, Wildcat. The second phase of this expansion will open in 1997 with the iconic Ferris Wheel and the now-defunct Whip. Two kiddie rides are also moved into this area of the park. 1997 also saw the announcement of a revolutionary roller coaster that would be built in 1998.
Great Bear, Pennsylvania’s first inverted roller coaster opens in 1998 and is a smash hit with parkgoers. It was the tallest and fastest coaster at the park at that time.
1999 brought even more expansion to the Midway America section of the park, and created the “Hersheypark Fair.” Fun slides, a fair tent, a wild mouse, and food trucks are placed in this section. The Frontier Chute Out is also replaced that year with a similar attraction called the Western Chute Out.
New Century, New Coasters, and 100 Years 2000-2009
In the year 2000, Lightning Racer was introduced as the first ever wooden dueling roller coaster. In 2001, a nighttime show called NightLights was introduced next to Lightning Racer that was presented at 10 p.m. daily.
2002 brought a unique coaster to the park’s lineup. Roller Soaker debuts behind Canyon River Rapids. This unique water coaster allowed riders to drop water on bystanders below and allowed those people to throw the water back at riders.
Hersheypark received another revolutionary coaster in 2004 in the form of Storm Runner. This was the park’s first-ever launched roller coaster and it also became the park’s tallest and fastest at the time. This year also marked the end of the Giant Wheel, which was planned to be replaced by a coaster called Turbulence in 2005, however, this project was canceled soon after it was announced due to a conflict with the ride’s manufacturer.
The first dark ride in years, Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge opened in 2006 and the park also announces a major addition for its 100th anniversary. The Boardwalk at Hersheypark water park, which opened in 2007, celebrated the 100 years of the park. That year also marked the final year for the Western Chute Out.
Another coaster joined the lineup the following year in 2008. Built on the spot where the Western Chute Out was, Fahrenheit was built and featured the steepest drop in the world at that time. The Howler flat ride was introduced and this was the final season of operation for Canyon River Rapids and the Rodeo.
2009 brought the SEAquel to the Boardwalk, with the addition of the lazy river and wave pool.
Unique Additions: 2010-2018
The next biggest addition to the park doesn’t come until 2012 when the park added its most ambitious and most intense coaster at that time.
Skyrush opens in The Hollow section of the park, next to the first drop of Comet in 2012. This 200-foot coaster took the title of the tallest, fastest and longest coaster at the park. It was also deemed the most expensive investment at the park at that time. Roller Soaker is also removed after this season.
Until 2015, a few additions and changes were made to the park. Three new water slides open at the Boardwalk and the Shoreline Sprayground all open in 2013. In 2014, a new kiddie coaster called Cocoa Cruiser opens where the old 1989 kiddie water ride was placed. Two new flat rides are introduced which are the Sweet Swing and Tea Cups. Minetown is renamed and the areas of Tudor Square, Rhineland, Founders Circle, and Music Box Way are combined into Founders Way.
2015 saw the addition of Laff Trakk. This glow coaster was inspired by old fun houses that used to be at the park. In 2018, two new Boardwalk rides opened, including a new water coaster.
In 2017, Hershey Triple Tower becomes the world’s first “choose your thrill” ride. It replaced the Flying falcon attraction.
2018 also marked a major milestone. That year, the park announced the biggest plan in its over 100-year history
Out with the old, in with the chocolate: 2018-Present
In 2018, Chocolatetown was announced. This expansion was announced as the single biggest investment in Hersheypark’s history, costing the park around $125 million.
This expansion features a restaurant and bar called the Chocolatier, with a second-story patio and signature desserts. The Sweeterie, a confectionary kitchen where guests can watch candy makers at work, and Milton’s ice cream parlor with exclusive creations will all remain open year-round. These eateries opened in 2021.
One of Hersheypark’s most historic rides, the carousel got a new home in Chocolatetown. The new area also required the removal of the old front gate and replacement with a brand-new entrance. The Kisses fountain and the Hersheypark Supply Company flagship store all opened in 2020. Candymonium, which is the tallest, fastest, longest, and sweetest coaster at the park to date also opened, and Hersheypark’s second hypercoaster, or coaster that is 200 feet or taller.
In 2021, new lighting packages were installed on many coasters. In 2022, Sidewinder was reimagined and renamed Jolly Rancher Remix. The Wildcat which opened in 1996 closed in July 2022 and is to be replaced with a Hybrid coaster called Wildcat’s Revenge in 2023. The Whip was also removed after the 2022 season.
The park has seen its fair share of changes during its massive history. Who knows what’s next for the Sweetest Place on Earth? Time will tell!