Answering ‘How did they make that?’ in York County

Daina Savage

Ever wonder how stuff gets made? From the soap you shower with to the watch you strap on your wrist, and to the food you consume to your transportation for work, your morning starts with the products manufactured in places such as York, Pa. The York area celebrates its place in American life with the 17th annual Made in America Tour, June 17–20. More than 20 factories and attractions, in addition to six wineries, open their doors to allow visitors to see the inner workings, in many cases, for free.

York PA Sunrise SoapYou can watch Christina Clarke create a cornucopia of sweetly scented bars, infused with herbs and oils to promote a gorgeous glow, at Sunrise Soap Company. You can spend a few hours with Daniel Nied and his students at the York Time Institute, wondering at the inner workings of clockworks from pocket timepieces to grand tall case clocks. You can inhale the intoxicating aromas of hand-twisted sourdough snacks warm from the brick oven at Kevin Bidelspach’s Revonah Pretzels. And, you can marvel at what happens every 80 seconds on the factory production line as new Harley-Davidson motorcycles are built.

It’s this human quality that makes these tours so unique. Visitors have an opportunity to meet the makers face-to-face and delight in the stories that shape their creations. It’s the rare, look-over-the-shoulder experience that’s the attraction, witnessing the craftsmanship unfold as Mark Bluett shapes a stringed instrument at Bluett Bros.Violins. But, it’s also the delight at seeing raw materials, like tractor-trailer loads of potatoes turned into potato chips. There’s something about the taste of warm-from-the-oven snacks that can’t be captured in a bag.

Tours lead to more

It’s why some tour visitors end up inspired to linger longer, pursuing job opportunities in the Factory Tour Capital of the World. Some of Nied’s students, who range from 17 to 87, got their start after first touring York Time Institute and watching the process. “People come in for the tour and sign up for the school,” says Nied. “Visitors will come in with very expensive clocks and watches and even clockmakers’ tools passed down in their families and want to learn more.”

The curiosity to learn more is what makes this event so popular, says Brent Burkey, who promotes the area.

Ready to visit? Come in your walking shoes. It’s safest to wear closed toe shoes with flat heels. Some factories require them.

Insider tip: Be prepared to don hairnets, earplugs, or safety glasses, as well as to remove your jewelry and leave your cameras behind.

Some sites are wheelchair-friendly, others require you keep your wits about you as you move past working machinery and wiggle through close quarters. Not every site is open to children, so do your research or make provisions. And, not every factory is in production every day, so plan accordingly and make reservations for your must-see stops. That’s especially true if you’d like to be part of the exclusive Harley-Davidson Steel Toe Tour, which comes with a $35 fee.

While many of the factories are open year-round, visiting during the Made in America event ensures greater accessibility as well as the bonus of special package deals at local businesses.

The event also features a Visit and Win promotion, where visitors get a passport stamped at each location, making them eligible for prizes. You can find all the participating factory tours, download a passport, and access an interactive itinerary planner at factorytours.org.

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