As of 2022, 18% of all the world’s manufacturing is done right here in the U.S., making the country the second-largest maker of all goods worldwide after China. Moreover, according to IBISWorld, the number of factories and manufacturing businesses in the U.S. has been growing annually by an average of 3.8% since 2017. And with over 715,000 plants and factories nationwide and counting — when it comes to factory tours, you have plenty of options. Choosing the best tour to go on, however, can be tricky. If you happen to be looking to make your own factory tour stand out from the rest, consider Plant Tours’ tour guide systems and headsets for factory tours. They’re sure to make any tour experience smooth, enjoyable, and — quite possibly — worthy of being called the best in the country.
And, in the meantime, if you happen to be planning a cross-country road trip (especially through Pennsylvania), we suggest you stop and glimpse the unique manufacturing process behind some of the country’s most recognizable, authentically Americana products. And to help you do just that, we’ve compiled a list of ten cool factories to visit below.
Jelly Belly Visitor Center & Factory (Fairfield, California)
Originally invented in the mid-1800s as a snack to send to U.S. soldiers on the frontline, the jelly bean has come a long way over the years. And Jelly Belly has been — and remains — a pioneer in the industry. The original Jelly Belly factory about an hour north of San Francisco in Fairfield offers a fun self-guided tour of why that is. Learn about the company’s origins, history, and the careful process that goes into crafting each unique jelly bean — from classics like Very Cherry and Green Apple to the slightly less common Buttered Popcorn and Cappuccino (and every bean in between). Observe the workings of a uniquely colorful production line, learn some science — including why each jelly bean takes one to two weeks to make — and, of course, treat your belly to some classic or not-so-classic free samples to boot.
The Crayola Experience (Easton, Pennsylvania)
While on the East Coast, for something equally colorful — albeit inedible — check out the original Crayola Experience in Easton, PA. Crayola has been synonymous with crayons ever since its inception by school teacher Alice (Stead) Binney back in 1903. Located just a short drive from Philadelphia and New York City, this fun, modern-day factory tour is described as “a larger-than-life, indoor family attraction” and includes dozens of fun interactive exhibits, activities, and sciency stuff for all ages. Among the many highlights, for example, is “Big Blue” — a single crayon weighing 1,500 lbs created from 123,000 blue crayons donated from around the world.
Hershey’s Chocolate World (Hershey, Pennsylvania)
Then head west to Hershey, PA for some chocolate. Originally a caramel company founded by Milton S. Hershey in the 1880s — in what was then Derry Church, PA — Hershey’s transitioned to chocolate in 1893. Since then, it has grown to become one of the world’s most recognizable brands. So much so that Derry Church was renamed Hershey in 1905 — in honor of Hershey’s very first factory. Today, Hershey’s Chocolate World invites you to take a ‘Chocolate Tour ride’ and glimpse the factory’s and the brand’s history, learn how roasted cocoa beans transition to delicious wrapped candy bars, and receive one of these complimentary bars at the end — all free of charge. You can also create your own candy bar, shop for some customized delicious gifts, and more. The sweetness is available both on weekdays and weekends all year round.
Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations (York, Pennsylvania)
After you’ve had your fill of the most recognizable cocoa goodness in the world, head an hour south — to York, PA — and check out what goes into making perhaps the most iconic motorcycles in the world. Back in 1903 — coincidentally, the same year Hershey opened his first factory and Alice (Stead) Binney patented Crayola crayons — William S. Harley and Arthur and Walter Davidson finished their very first model of a “motor-bicycle” in their 10×15-foot shed in Milwaukee. And the rest is, well, not only history — but the stuff of legend. Today, Harley-Davidson Factory Tours offers you a free behind-the-scenes look at how “the legend comes to life.” Witness hydraulic presses transform sheets of metal into fenders, fuel tanks, and tailpipes. Watch masters of the craft assemble these into classic HD frames and give them in-house road tests at 60 mph. And, finally, see the bikes wrapped in plastic and crated by robots — to surely make any motorcycle enthusiast’s dream come true soon enough. Oh, and you get a chance to sit on one of these bad boys too. The Tour Center also features a gift shop with authentic branded merchandise.
The Great Utz Chip Trip Tour (Hanover, Pennsylvania)
And before you leave the Keystone State, see what goes into making some of the world’s most recognizable potato chips in nearby Hanover. Here, back in 1921, William and Salie Utz were single-handedly cooking about 50 lbs of chips an hour in their summer kitchen. A century later, the 600,000+ square foot Utz manufacturing facility invites you to The Utz Potato Chip Trip Tour. With the aid of a tour guide system and closed-circuit TV monitors, this tasty-smelling free self-guided tour includes some history, some science, and a special glass-enclosed observation gallery. And you get a free bag of chips at the end too.
The Roasterie Factory Tour (Kansas City, Missouri)
In 1978, foreign exchange student Danny O’Neill picked his first coffee cherries in Costa Rica. 15 years later, Danny founded The Roasterie Coffee Company in his basement in Kansas City. Since then, The Roasterie has been committed to sourcing and roasting the finest coffees from around the world and delivering them to their customers “as fast as humanly possible.” And their aromatic guided tour invites you to learn, sip, and “take a piece of Kansas City with you.”
Ben & Jerry’s Factory Experience (Waterbury, Vermont)
The same year that Danny O’Neill was picking coffee in Costa Rica, friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were converting a former gas station in Burlington, Vermont into their very first ice cream scoop shop. 45 years later, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is a household name, available in 33 countries and counting. But their very first factory — built in Waterbury, Vermont in 1985 — continues to manufacture over 350,000 pints of goodness daily. Meanwhile, its Factory Experience tour offers you a detailed sneak peek into the company’s humble beginnings, history, growth, and how each pint of goodness is made. Sample said goodness in their Flavor Room, and finish the walking tour in their “flavor graveyard.” Overlooking the factory, the graveyard is complete with headstones and epitaphs for each flavor that didn’t make the cut (yet).
PEZ Visitor Center (Orange, Connecticut)
Originally invented in 1927 in Vienna by Eduard Haas III, the now world-famous PEZ candy dispenser was meant to be a handy peppermint alternative to smoking. The candy company has since evolved, coming to the U.S. in 1952 and building its first candy factory in Orange, CT in 1973. Then, the PEZ Visitor Center opened its doors to the public in 2011. Its self-guided tours offer 4,000+ square feet “dedicated to all things PEZ.” Among these is the largest collection of PEZ memorabilia in the world, a PEZ motorcycle, the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, an interactive historical timeline, and more. Oh — and there is, of course, no smoking during any portion of the tour.
Tabasco Factory (Avery Island, Louisiana)
Since its inception by Edmund McIlhenny in the Bayou State in 1868, Tabasco has become synonymous with hot sauce the world over. Meanwhile, the Avery Island Fan Experience is a self-guided taste of where this spicy wonder got its start. It features a museum, a greenhouse, a barrel warehouse, a salt mine diorama, a centuries-old restaurant, a Tabasco shop, and “170 acres of natural beauty” known as Jungle Beauty. And it’s all designed to take you through the history and process of making and bottling the “Original Red Pepper Sauce passed down from generation to generation.”
Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour (Boulder, Colorado)
In 1969, hiker Mo Siegel handpicked some wild herbs from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and made some tea. In the coming years, inspired by this experience, Mo and his hippy friends would find Celestial Seasonings — supposedly naming the brand after one of its founder’s “flowernames.” Since then, the company would grow to become one of the most recognizable tea brands in the country — due in part to their unique visual branding, but also thanks to their commitment to using the finest herbs, teas, spices, and botanicals available in nature. The free tour of their Factory is, unfortunately, currently on hold due to the pandemic. But keep an eye out for this one. This aromatic herbal experience promises to “make every moment celestial,” and is not to be missed.