It's exciting to see how something is made. Our minds naturally thrill to finding out the secrets behind familiar items. Many factories around the country -- some possibly in your own town -- allow the public to take tours. Make a day trip to a nearby factory or incorporate a factory visit into your next vacation, and you'll experience firsthand how much fun it is to see America's work force and machinery in action. Here are some obvious benefits:
Check out the book, Watch It Made in the U.S.A., by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg (Avalon Travel, 2002). This is the definitive guide to companies that make our favorite products. Now in its third edition, this comprehensive book is an indispensable resource. Using a state-by-state format, it lists some 300 companies that allow the public to go behind the scenes to see everything from how toothpaste is put into tubes (Tom's of Maine in Kennebunk) to how the fizz gets in Coca-Cola (Kokomo, Indiana). The book offers advice for traveling and taking tours as a family. It also includes helpful itinerary planners, and practical information about tours, fees, hours, and nearby attractions. Perusing the index of factory tours available in any given state will give you unending vacation ideas.
Go online. Watch It Made in the U.S.A. also has an online component. There you can find information about the book (you can order it there or through a favorite bookseller), as well as videos of favorite tours, and a featured tour. When we visited the site recently, the featured tour went behind the scenes at Basic Brown Bear Factory in San Francisco, where kids get to see and participate in the making of teddy bears.
Do an Internet search. A search for "factory tour" on a search engine like Google will produce numerous listings. Many of the listings are virtual tours that let you and the kids make factory visits via your own computer; you can also get information about visiting plants in person. When we did a search recently, we turned up many interesting tour possibilities that could fill a rainy day or round out a vacation itinerary.
... See a jet airplane made at Boeing.
... See a sweater knit at Northeast Knitting Mills.
... Tour Cannondale's bike factory.
... Tour Rickenbacker's guitar factory.
... See how a wax figure is made for Virginia's Natural Bridge wax museum.
More online tour information abounds at these sites:
York County, Pennsylvania Tourism: The county bills itself as The Factory Tour Capital of the World and provides information about the many tours there.
Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works: Behind-the-scenes tours of people making things or showing how something works in detail. Kids can check out how Centropolis FX creates visual effects, how 3DO creates video games, and how champ racing cars work.
BYG Publishing, Inc.: This site offers a good list of U.S. and Canadian factory tours recommended as great breaks during long car trips or on vacation.
PBS Kids' Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: This site shows how people make things, including sneakers, wagons, plates, construction paper, crayons, and fortune cookies.
Discovery Channel Travel Channel's list of top factory tours, with contact information. Who makes the top seven? Hershey's Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jelly Belly factory and Herman Goelitz Candy in Fairfield, Calif. and North Chicago, Ill.; Basic Brown Bear in San Francisco, Calif.; Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream in Waterbury, Vt.; Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Ky.;. Kellogg's Cereal City USA in Battle Creek, Mich.; Crayola Factory Tour in Easton, PA.
Call the Chamber of Commerce or visit it online. Your local Chamber knows the businesses in your area. With a few phone calls to interesting businesses with factories, you could find public tours just minutes away. It doesn't have to be something as sophisticated as a pop bottling plant to be exciting. A local bakery might be willing to arrange for a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of bread.
Flip through the Yellow Pages. The good old phone book can point you to all sorts of possibilities in your area.
Dana Joseph is a freelance travel writer based in Fort Worth/Dallas, Texas.
Editor's Note: BHG.com makes no warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the safety of any of the tours mentioned in this story and assumes no liability with respect to the consequences of using the information contained in this story. If you have any specific safety concerns, contact the companies directly before you decide to visit.
Reviewed April 2004.