Industry is alive and well in the U.S. and, despite recent bleak news, many local factories are thriving. Some welcome visitors for free or nearly free in order to highlight their products and to offer fans a glimpse of the manufacturing process.
Whether you've watched Americans make potato chips or Mack Trucks -- you'll come away with a greater appreciation for the businesses and objects our countrymen are capable of building.
Tour: Self-Guided, viewing windows Visitors: Tens of thousands per year Employees start making the cheese at 5 a.m. each morning, but you can sleep in before taking this delightful journey into the world of cheddar. If you think that Grafton Cheese is made by machine, think again. <a href="http://www.graftonvillagecheese.com">Real human beings handcraft this all-natural antidote to Velveeta</a>. Founded in 1892 by local dairy farmers, Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company was just one such entity in rural Vermont, where an abundance of fresh, creamy milk was transformed into a food that could be stored for a longer period of time. Swag: Complimentary chunks are available, and it's recommended that you sample different ages of cheddar sequentially to determine how time effects taste.
<strong><a href="http://www.martinguitar.com" target="_hplink">Martin Guitar Company</a></strong> Nazareth, PA Tour: One hour guided tours Hours: Monday - Friday 11am-2:30pm Age: All, but parents must accompany children Cost: None for individuals, $3 pp for group tours Visitors: 30,000 per year and growing with opening of new Visitors Center Most legends in music -- Elvis, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, John Mayer -- have owned or own Martin Guitars. In operation since 1833, Martin Guitar is the oldest surviving maker of stringed instruments in the world and the largest maker of acoustic guitars in the USA. You can see how <a href="http://www.martinguitar.com">Martins are made from start to finish </a>(including the way that two buffing robots gingerly coddle the body of each guitar and polish it with extreme care) then afterwards play on a few higher-end rare models in the "Pickin' Parlor." Swag: Each visitor gets the part of the guitar that the musician doesn't; the sound-hole cutout laser etched with the Martin logo -- a collectible that also serves as a great coaster when you get back from Nazareth, PA.
Tour: One and a half hour guided tour Visitors: Over 3,000 per year All vocational and construction Mack trucks sold in North America <a href="http://www.macktrucks.com">are assembled in Macungie, PA</a>. Visitors are stunned by the sheer size of the plant (it's a 1 ½ mile walking tour) and magnitude of the components. Watching the installation of the engine-transmission combinations, which can weigh roughly 3,000 pounds, is particularly awe-inspiring. With so much going on, it's hard to believe that it takes just three hours for an empty frame to become a solidly built truck that is literally driven off the assembly line. If you don't have time for a complete factory tour, visit the <a href="http://www.macktrucks.com/default.aspx?pageid=5060" target="_hplink">Mack Truck Testing Customer Center and Museum</a> in Allentown, PA on Mon, Wed. Fri. between 10am and 4pm for a one-hour tour. A brand new gleaming facility, you may just see a Mack Truck getting put through its paces. Swag: A pin featuring a bulldog - the corporate symbol earned on the battlefield in WWI.
Tour: 30 minute guided tour Visitors: Over 300,000 Ben and Jerry's has a penchant for crowd pleasing, with nearly 300,000 smiling people taking the Waterbury, VT factory tour per year. <a href="http://www.benjerry.com/">Over 250,000 pints of dense and creamy ice cream are produced here per day</a>, and you can watch the way your favorites are blended and packaged. You'll also learn that even the "waste" is put to use; shipped to three Vermont farms with methane digesters, turned into electricity and put back into the energy grid through Central Vermont Power. Before or after the factory tour, be sure to pay your respects to the dearly departed flavors in the Flavor Graveyard on the hill. Swag: A 2 oz sample of the flavor of the day, and a souvenir ticket.
Tour: One hour guided QVC doesn't exactly manufacture anything, except, perhaps, desire. QVC stands for Quality, Value and Convenience and is the world's largest electronic retailer of every kind of product you can imagine. On TV and through podcasts- it's like a store catalog come to life. You can see the inner workings of QVC's <a href="http://www.qvc.com">58,000-square-foot, West Chester, PA, studio</a> and perhaps interact with program hosts and celebrities during live broadcasts. Swag: None, but you can purchase the most popular items in the Studio Tour Store.
Tour: One hour guided Visitors: Tens of thousands per year At this "research and development" brewery, visitors actually help shape products by taste-testing new recipes and offering feedback during <a href="http://www.samueladams.com">the tour of the Boston factor</a>y. You learn first about the history of Samuel Adams and breweries in Boston then watch the steps in the brewing process before tasting three 7ounce samples of various Sam Adams concoctions. Drinks on tap change often, so you'll most likely try something new every time you visit. Swag: A Samuel Adams tasting glass and three 7 ounce samples of beer.
Tour: Indoor Ten Minute Ride Visitors Per Year: Over 2 Million Though not in the <a href="http://www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld">Hershey Chocolate plant </a>itself, this Disney-like ride through a simulated factory is the most popular tour on this list (with 2 million visitors per year). Talking animated cows take you through the chocolate-making process from milk to roasted cocoa beans (which you can smell) to the smooching sound made by machines as they create the famed Hershey's Kiss (ergo the name). Over 80 million kisses roll off the conveyor belts every day - and an abundance can be found in the amply stocked Hershey's Chocolate World shop. Swag: A couple of mini-Hershey's chocolate samples.
Tour: More like a children's museum - allow three hours or more Visitors Per Year: 300,000 Though not officially a "factory tour" (it isn't the actual manufacturing plant), this is the only place to<a href="http://www.crayola.com/factory/"> witness the fashioning of kid's favorite</a>, Crayola Crayons along with the largest crayon on display (15 feet tall and 1,500 pounds). With more than a dozen hands-on activities for families, this is more an interactive kids-museum and less a quick look-see. Allow at least three hours to mess around with all of the vibrant Crayola products available. And be prepared for some serious pleading from your kids in the impressive gift shop. Crayola Crayon socks are particularly cool. Swag: Visitors get a Crayola Crayon 4-pack, a sample pack of Model Magic and a Crayola Marker.
Tour: Self-guided, 5-15 minutes Visitors: Over 250,000 per year Sometimes a potato chip is just a potato chip and not a feat of technical engineering. And that's a good thing. Visitors to Hyannis, MA actually see the raw potatoes drop into the slicer, <a href="http://www.capecodchips.com/">cook in the canola oiled filled kettles</a>, placed on the salter and conveyed into the packaging room. Swag: Free samples of potato chips
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