The Pennsylvania City Known As The 'Pretzel Capital Of The World'

Hershey may be famous for its chocolate factory, but it's not the only Pennsylvania city that represents tasty food. Just drive one hour east and you'll hit Reading, a city known for a mountaintop Japanese pagoda, an old goggle factory, and its title as the "Pretzel Capital of the World." How did Reading get this nickname? All the way back in 1827, a pretzel baker named Scherle baked the first-ever U.S. pretzel in Lititz, Pennsylvania. 

They created a domino effect for other local bakers who then took up pretzel-making. Eventually in 1859 and 1861, two such bakers, Benjamin Lichtenthaler and Julius Sturgis, moved from the Moravian Village in Lititz to Reading, where they established successful pretzel businesses. The industry took off in Reading from there and by 1948, bakeries in the city were making one-third of all pretzels in the U.S. 

Today, Pennsylvania as a whole produces around 80% of U.S. pretzels, according to GoReadingBerks. And Reading is home to plenty of them — Unique Pretzel, Tom Sturgis, Savor Street, and Pretzel Revolution are just a few of the factories that still exist.

Reading used to be home to 26 pretzel factories

While there are still an impressive number of pretzel bakeries in Reading today, there was a time when there were 26 of them in the city. Although Julius is generally credited with founding the pretzel industry in 1861 in Lititz, two of his factories are still in business in Reading today — Victor Sturgis and Tom Sturgis, both founded in the 1920s. Julius' original plant in Lititz produced the first-ever hard pretzels, while Philly factories are more renowned for making soft-baked pretzels.

Benjamin Lichtenthaler, however, opened his bakeries in Reading in 1860, just a little before Sturgis. His pretzels, called "bretzels" back in the day, were enormously popular, and his plant made 1.5 million every year by 1893. In those days, there was a true art to pretzel-making. The snacks were originally twisted by hand and made with specialty yeast formulas and lye varieties. In 1935, the Reading Pretzel Machinery company invented the pretzel-twisting machine, eliminating the need for all that manual labor. If you visit Reading today, you can still marvel at the artisanal pretzels made at the multitude of factories that still exist.