Factory Fans

Hershey_Trolley_Works

Some people work in factories. Some people have never been inside a factory. And some people are fascinated by factories. There are travel and tourism companies that specialize in factory tours, and travel websites identify the best factory tours. Many companies have their own museums, and thousands of people visit them every year.

What’s the fascination?

For some people, the appeal is simply in finding out the secret stories behind everyday objects. They loved that crayon factory segment on Sesame Street, and never lost their fascination for the surprising inner workings of factories.

For others, it’s all about the machinery. They might not have the skills to be engineers, but they feel that deep draw to motors.

And there are others who feel that a factory tour is an educational alternative to ordinary tourist sites, no matter how touristy the tour becomes.

Factory tours used to be more common than they are now. They began at the end of the 19th century, when factories were changing and the rising middle class was taking an interest in how the other half lived. Companies making convenience foods — an entirely new idea at the time, and one that experienced strong resistance — wanted to make consumers feel comfortable with  revolutionary new products like bottled ketchup or canned meals.

American tourists began to expect that they could stop by a factory and be shown around. That expectation ended in the 20th century, but was replaced by regularly scheduled public tours and tastings.

Insurance concerns have caused some companies to give up the practice of giving tours. Offshoring, too, took its toll. For some companies, those concerns have not caused them to stop giving tours; instead, they’ve created special rooms and routes built just for the tours… and typically ending up in a gift shop which provides an additional revenue stream.

Hershey, for example, offers “the factory experience” in Pennsylvania even though it sent its actual processing to Mexico. This approach allows a manufacturer to get the public relations benefits without exposing tourists to the dangers of the factory floor — or to the reality that the manufacturing no longer takes place in the U.S.

Recently, there have also been concerns about putting factory workers on display like animals in a zoo. However, it appears that factory tours actually lead to greater appreciation of the workers who make the goods Americans consume, and workers are often proud to share their experiences.

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