How The Philly Soft Pretzel Became A Unique Icon Of The City

A symbol of baseball games, a delicious treat from movie theaters, a bite-sized appetizer at your favorite mainstream restaurant, the soft pretzel has become a staple in American cuisine.

The delectably soft pastry was first popularized in areas of Germany, with the recipe accompanying immigrants to the United States as early as the 18th century, according to Serious Eats. Many of these immigrants eventually settled in the Pennsylvania area and became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Pretzels eventually trickled into home cooking and subsequently into commercial bakeries and factories, of which the first is claimed to have been opened in Lititz, Pennsylvania, by a baker named Julius Strurgis in 1861, according to Philadelphia Magazine.

Soon, bakeries solely dedicated to the pretzel-making craft, such as the Federal Pretzel Baking Company, began popping up all over, especially in Philadelphia, until the soft pretzel ultimately became associated with the city itself, according to Serious Eats.

Becoming an icon of the city

The pretzel frenzy was a spreading wildfire in the city, as bakeries like the Federal Baking Company began mass production and even started supplying Philadelphian schools with the pastry, per Serious Eats.

The hand-twisted treat began to develop an appearance that was easily distinguishable as the Philly pretzel. They were produced in rows of five and had a resemblance similar to that of a paper clip, with a shorter height and longer width than the typical soft pretzel you may be used to.

These unique pastries are now a huge part of Philadelphia's culinary identity, and can be found nearly everywhere in the city: at stands, in the classic bakeries, and even in a pretzel museum, at one point, according to the Independence Hall Association. One of the largest soft pretzels in U.S. history, measuring 5 feet and weighing 20 pounds, was baked by none other than Joe Nacchio, the very Philadelphian who founded the Federal Pretzel Baking Company, per Philadelphia Magazine. And quite notably in 2003, the former governor of Pennsylvania declared that April 26 was the first National Pretzel Day.