Have you ever wondered how potato chips are made? Sure, you slice a potato and fry it. That’s an easy one. But how about pretzels? Or tea? Guitars? Motorcycles
Last year one of my friends took her family on a factory-and-museum road trip up the east coast. We’d actually been to several of the stops on her trip, so before she went and after she got back, we compared notes. One of the places they’d hit was Herr’s Snack Factory in Nottingham, PA, less than two hours from where we live. Free tours, she told me, with fresh, hot chips, a movie, and an outlet store with discounted seconds. It sounded right up our alley.
I love factory tours. I remember as a child visiting Hershey and Crayola, which are both still amazing stops. When I lived in Colorado, I went to the Celestial Seasonings Factory with anyone who visited, and sometimes on my own. Standing in the peppermint room is something everyone should experience at least once. And on a New England trip a few years ago, we toured Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot cheese, Lake Champlain Chocolates, and King Arthur Flour.
So my girls and I made a day trip of Herr’s. I called ahead to reserve our spots on a tour. We read up on the history of the company from their website (most of which is also covered in the factory tour movie). We started out early and listened to audio books on the way (we love The Story of the World kids’ history series – both fascinating and educational). A nice young woman met us for the tour, which lasted about 45 minutes and included a film, then walking and viewing the pretzel factory, corn chip room, packaging warehouse (I think this was my favorite part, with conveyor belts whizzing this way and that in every direction), and the mother lode, the potato chip factory. It was at least as long as a football field, and two stories high. Rows and rows of machinery lined up to flavor flat and rippled chips with every seasoning imaginable, then seal them into bags and send them on their way. We also saw the tumbling room where fresh potatoes were sorted, washed, sliced, fried and cooled. Our tour guide donned a hair net and gloves, entered the room, and came back out with a tray full of hot ripple chips that had been whole potatoes mere seconds ago. (Unfortunately, for the privacy of employees, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the tour).
In addition to seeing how snacks are made and packaged, we learned some unexpected things. I was amazed to learn of their heat transfer system, how they use excess steam from the potato chip area to heat other parts of the campus. My kids loved seeing the products process in front of their eyes – dough to pretzel; potato to chip.
Everyone picked a snack from the shop to munch on the way home. As we left, my 8-year-old daughter claimed, “That was AMAZING! Can we go on another factory tour soon?” And they spent the whole ride home designing and discussing imaginary factories.
Are your kids interested in how things are made, or how to make things themselves? How do you foster that curiosity?
Even if you don’t live near a factory, you can find one on your next trip or explore online how things are made:
- Article: Best U.S. Factory Tours and Museums
- Factory Tours U.S.A. – Information about 564 tours in 49 states (what’s up, Louisiana?) Find out what’s in your state, or one you plan to visit.
- How It’s Made – The Science Channel’s popular show has over 100 videos on how things are made, including airline seats, sparklers, candy canes, and paper towels.
- The Kid Should See This: Smart Videos for Curious Minds of All Ages – Learn answers to smart questions, including how things are made, and how to make awesome things yourself (like a carrot clarinet!)