9 Factory Tours That Are Better Than Amusement Parks
Factories and manufacturing used to be at the heart of the American workforce. Of course those days are long gone, but America’s innovative spirit can still be traced back to the plant floor. According to The New York Times, factories and farms employed 60 percent of the workforce in 1900, but by 1950 that number was 36 percent. By 2014, it had dropped all the way down to 10 percent.
Be that as it may, there is still a lot to be learned from factories still in operation today. That’s why factory tours can be such an enriching experience for entrepreneurs. Whether you’re looking for inspiration, actionable ideas or just an inexpensive-yet-stimulating day out of the office, this list of my favorite factories can help.
Brooklyn Brewery's Small Batch Tour
Location: 79 North 11th St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Brooklyn Brewery is one of the most recognizable craft breweries in the world, and visitors are treated to a first-hand look at how the beloved elixir is produced. You can even bring your dog.
The tour begins with a quick history lesson of the brewery, followed by a tour of the brewhouse and packaging hall. The tour experts are open to answering any questions throughout the process and there’s a guided tasting of four different Brooklyn beers. Throughout the experience, the experts peel back the layers of the rapid growth the business experienced over the years, and entrepreneurs can compare this to their own business’s growth while enjoying the atmosphere.
Harley Davidson “Steel Toe Tour”
Location: 1425 Eden Road, York, Penn.
Few brands conjure up a stronger sense of old-school America than Harley Davidson, and the iconic motorcycle company lets visitors take a behind-the-scenes look at their operations with the Steel Toe Tour.
The tour goes through the manufacturing of fuel tanks, frames and fenders, as well as many "employee-only" areas in paint and polish. Throughout the tour, you become familiar with the production process behind the company’s Softail, Touring, Trike and CVO model families. Plus, at the end of the experience, you come away with a greater appreciation for the assembly process behind the brand.
Bluett Bros. Violins Workshop Tour
Location: 122 Hill St., York, Penn.
The Bluett Bro. Violins Factory Tour is the most intimate stop on my list. The shop, first opened in 1984, allows visitors to get up close and personal with the production process of some of the world’s highest-quality and most ornate stringed instruments -- particularly violins and mandolins.
To call this a factory tour makes it seem like there is a large operation going on, but in reality, at Bluett Bros. Violins, you can see nearly all of the workshop in one view . . . which doesn't make it any less impressive.
Throughout the experience, you witness the Bluett team assemble, polish and even re-string instruments. They utilize age-old strategies that seem to be fail-safe, which just goes to show young entrepreneurs that, sometimes, you have to look to the past to produce a high-quality product.
Sterling Hill Mine Tour
Location: 30 Plant St., Ogdensburg, N.J.
While this mine isn’t operational anymore, there is a lot of information to be gleaned at this historic New Jersey site. Within the mine passages are numerous pieces of mining equipment, and the mine-turned-museum has exhibits set up throughout the tour that allow entrepreneurs to develop an appreciation for the mining industry. You’ll see the lamp room, shaft station and galleries dating back to the 1830s.
The entire tour is well-lit, and thankfully, there is no climbing involved -- hard-packed gravel paths lead you the whole way. The highlight of the tour is the Rainbow Tunnel, where brightly fluorescent zinc ore is exposed in the mine walls in order to mimic what it would look like when ore was actually being produced.
Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour
Location: 5847 Lincoln Hwy., Thomasville, Penn.
Some call York, Penn., the "Factory Tour Capital of The World” because of the blast-from-the-past aura induced by the plethora of factories in the area. One of the most invasive and impressive of the tours in town lies at Martin’s Potato Chips, Inc.
Local lore states that Fairy Martin started the factory when she grew tired of her son always buying chips from the Utz’s and decided to make her own. Now, years later, Martin’s is one of the few factories that allows you to actually walk the production floor. While this may make it a little harder to hear your tour leader, you truly get a feel for the factory -- a strong sense of what happens when humans work together with technology.
Gillinder Glass Tour
Location: 39 Erie St., Port Jervis, N.Y.
Gillinder Glass is celebrating their 156th year of business in 2017, and visiting its facilities for a tour genuinely feels like stepping into a time machine.
During the guided factory tours, you’re exposed to glass-working demonstrations and first-hand views of the gathering, pouring and pressing of glass production. If you catch them at the right time, you can also view special glass-blowing demonstrations, but most days you will be exposed to inner workings of the factory, which creates parts for lighting fixtures. The factory floor is extremely busy and the team there allows you to take a peek behind the curtains of a very focused and calculated operation.
Plus, watching molten glass form into solid glass pieces can give visiting entrepreneurs a strong sense of the focus and vision it takes to mold your ideas into their highest form.
Steinway & Sons Piano Factory Tour
Location: 1 Steinway Pl., Queens, N.Y.
Steinway & Sons’s pianos are some of the highest quality pianos in the world, and with just a short subway ride from the city, you can see how a world-class instrument is produced. It’s said that no two Steinway pianos are the same, which highlights how effective a personalized approach can be.
Over the course of the one- or two-hour walking tour, you’ll witness the entire process of creating a piano from raw wood to the final tuning. It’s truly a rare opportunity and it gives entrepreneurs a sense of wonder to witness the production of a world-class item up close.
Wedding Gown Preservation Company
Location: 707 North St., Endicott, N.Y.
The Wedding Gown Preservation Company is a family-owned business that combines modern equipment with a special, time-tested, anti-sugar treatment to prevent yellowing and discoloration. Visitors to the factory get a first-hand look at the conveyor belt system and a tour of the entire facility to better understand the process. In this tour, then, the Wedding Gown Preservation Company gives entrepreneurs a sense of just how valuable a specialized, effective approach to business can be as the company has earned national respect by trusting in their system.
Stickley Furniture Factory Tour
Location: 1 Stickley Drive, Manlius N.Y.
Stickley Furniture prides itself on a British approach to American craftmanship, in what Gustav Stickley called "honest funiture." The first step of the tour involves a behind-the-scenes look into how the Stickley team makes custom pieces, using tools like bandsaws and jigs to work as efficiently as possible. After the custom pieces, you move on to the company’s stockpile of high-quality lumber, with everything from cherry wood to sapele wood that gets scanned by a computer in order to decide the most efficient way to cut it.
For entrepreneurs, this is a classic example of efficiency in the workplace, and it’s extremely interesting to see a time-tested business like Stickley Furniture utilize technology.