York Factory Tours

Ever wonder how stuff gets made? From the soap you shower with to the watch you strap on your wrist to the food you consume to your transportation to work, your morning starts with the products manufactured in places like York, PA. To learn how these goods get their start, visit the county for the 17th annual Made in America tour, June 17-20. More than 20 factories and attractions, in addition to six wineries, open their floors to allow visitors to see the inner workings, in many cases, for free.

There you can watch Christina Clarke create a cornucopia of sweetly scented bars at Sunrise Soap Company, infused with herbs and oils to promote a gorgeous glow. 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 more than a hundred skilled humans (not robots) accomplish, every 80 seconds, on the factory production line as they hand build each Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It’s this human quality that makes this tour 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 hand shapes a stringed instrument at his Bluett Violins shop. But it’s also the delight at seeing raw materials, like tractor-trailer loads of potatoes or tankers of milk turn to potato chips and ice cream. There’s nothing like the taste of warm-from-the-oven snacks or freshly churned goodness that can’t be captured in a bag or carton.

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 of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Ready to visit? Come in your walking shoes. It’s safest to wear closed toe shoes with flat heels, and may even be required in some factories. Be prepared to don hairnets and earplugs and 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, especially 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. Visit yorkpa.org for more information, including a downloadable passport and interactive itinerary planner.


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