The Buckeye State offers numerous opportunities to peek behind the scenes of the manufacturing process.
In need of a new rainy-day activity or a creative idea for a day trip? There's no shortage of family-friendly factory tours in Central Ohio and beyond.
“People are becoming more conscious of learning about things made locally, and a factory tour is a great way to see that in action,” said Megumi Robinson, director of public relations for Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors' bureau.
From baseball bats to chocolate to recreational vehicles, you're sure to find something that appeals to all families—and budgets. We've assembled a roundup of some of the most popular kid-friendly tours in various corners of Ohio.
419 W. Pike St., Jackson Center; 877-596-6111
When: 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Jackson Center, a little more than an hour west of Columbus, is home to Airstream Travel Trailers, an iconic way to travel in style since the 1920s. During one of the state's longer factory tours, visitors will spend nearly two hours learning the ins and outs of these recreational vehicles.
Children are required to stay with an adult at all times during the tour. Eye and hearing protection are provided, and guests must wear closed-toe shoes. Reservations are necessary only for groups of 10 or more. A small gift shop is on-site.
Al's Delicious Popcorn
1500 Bethel Road, Columbus; 614-451-7677
When: 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Tours are offered Jan. 15 to Sept. 15 and must be scheduled in advance.
Popcorn lovers, rejoice: Al's Delicious Popcorn, in business since 1985, makes 70 different flavors, and visitors can experience a bit of the magic. The twice-daily tours can accommodate up to 25 participants, who get to sample six to eight of those flavors. Bags also are available to purchase starting at $1.25.
“It's a great atmosphere,” said Sharon Agriesti, office associate. “People of all ages enjoy tasting the different flavors, and you get to see how the popcorn is made in-house.” (Though guests don't visit the kitchen, they do watch a video showing the production process.)
American Whistle Corp.
6540 Huntley Road, Columbus; 614-846-2918
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.Reservations are required.
Many people don't know the country's only manufacturer of metal whistles is based in Columbus. The American Whistle Corp., founded in 1956, produces more than 1 million whistles each year. Visitors can learn how they're made during an hourlong tour.
“You can see the machinery used … and they can tailor their tour to an age group,” said Robinson of Experience Columbus. “Each participant gets their own whistle. It's a good idea for a birthday party, especially if you have kids and their parents going along.”
Tours require 15 or more people, but don't worry—the company will combine smaller groups as needed. There's also an on-site gift shop.
1777 Arlingate Lane, Columbus; 877-226-3921
When: Drop-in tours take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also are available on Wednesdays from June to August.
Cost: Free for children 2 and younger, $1 for ages 3-18, $2 for adults. Customers get the ticket cost back via a voucher for the on-site retail store.
Anthony-Thomas Chocolates designed its factory, which opened in 1995, with tours in mind: A suspended, glass-enclosed catwalk allows guests to walk above the production area, which makes up to 30,000 pounds of candy per shift, and to see how the chocolate is made and packaged. Tour groups generally range from 12 to 30 people. The route is wheelchair-accessible. The 45-minute tour ends with a free buckeye. In the spring, watch for special Easter tours.
“It's not only fun, it's educational,” said Candi Trifelos, director of retail and marketing for the company, which was founded in 1952. “We have families that make it a point to come every summer.”
Columbus Washboard Co.
14 Gallagher Ave., Logan; 740-380-3828
When: 10 a.m., noon or 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Cost: Free for children 3 and younger, $3 for ages 4-18, $4 for seniors, $5 for adults
Thanks to modern laundry equipment, your children may not even know what a washboard is—let alone that it has dual uses. “It's still a pretty cool, functional product, whether you are doing laundry or playing music,” said factory manager Marissa Fickel.
Tour guests get to hear washboard music and learn about how the hand-assembled product is made. Columbus Washboard Co., in business since 1895, is the only remaining U.S. washboard manufacturer.
“A lot get sent overseas and to our servicemen and -women to do their laundry,” said Tammy Brown, public relations manager of TourismOhio. “There are countries outside of the U.S. that still don't have that technology to be in a place with washing machines and electric. They still use these washboards.”
Groups can take a self-guided tour, which lasts about 35 minutes, or make a reservation for six or more people. The factory, which also has a gift shop, is just under an hour's drive from Columbus.
KitchenAid Experience Retail Center
1701 KitchenAid Way, Greenville; 800-961-0959
When: 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays
If you're in the mood for a road trip, head roughly an hour and a half west to Greenville, where the KitchenAid Experience Retail Center offers a factory tour. Guests will observe how the company's colorful stand mixers are made in the manufacturing plant.
Note that tour guests must be at least 12 years old and wear closed-toe shoes with no heel. Call to schedule a time for groups of eight or more. Tours are not offered the week of July 4 or the week after Christmas. A retail store is nearby at 423 S. Broadway, Greenville.
7801 Corporate Blvd., Suite E, Plain City; 877-590-6675
When: 1:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Phoenix Bats offers an hourlong tour that educates visitors about the history of the company, which was started in 1996, as well as the manufacturing process. Phoenix supplies bats to Major League Baseball players, but anyone can have their own custom bat created. See how a bat is made, cut and sanded, what types of finishes are used and more. You'll get a mini-bat at the end of the tour.
The company uses a wood-shaping machine that's one of only two in the world, and produces roughly 20,000 bats each year. Leftover sawdust from the bat-making process is given to a local farmer for animal bedding, said Christina Rutledge, customer relations specialist.
Reservations are not required for the regularly scheduled tours, but groups of 10 or more people should call ahead to schedule a time.
Spangler Candy Co.
400 N. Portland St., Bryan; 888-636-4221
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays. During the summer, tours also are offered Mondays and Tuesdays.
Cost: Free for children 5 and younger with a paying adult, $3 for ages 6-18, $4 for seniors, $5 for adults
Spangler Candy Co., maker of Dum-Dums lollipops, started in 1906 and is in its fourth generation of family ownership. Ann Spangler, store museum tour manager, said the factory makes a whopping 12 million Dum-Dums a day. “The tour is good for all ages, and it's easygoing and relaxing,” she said.
When guests arrive for a tour, they hop on a trolley, which runs every 15 to 30 minutes. Although visitors won't go in the kitchen, they'll see the receiving warehouse, lollipop-wrapping room, finished goods warehouse and more. Parties of 20 or more people can make an advance reservation. Spangler is roughly three hours from Columbus, in the northwest corner of the state.
Velvet Ice Cream
11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica; 800-589-5000
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, May 1 to Oct. 31. Note that production does not always run on Fridays.
Since 1914, Velvet Ice Cream has been owned by the Dager family, and the business is now in its fourth generation of leadership. Families who make the hour or so trek to Utica can take a 30-minute, wheelchair-accessible walking tour and learn about the company's history and ice cream production (the latter via a viewing gallery). Reservations are required for groups of 20 or more people.
A restaurant and ice cream parlor are on Velvet's Ye Olde Mill property, which also hosts the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival every Memorial Day weekend.
Wilson Sporting Goods
217 N. Liberty St., Ada; 419-634-9901, ext. 4070
When: 9:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, March 1 to Nov. 16
Cost: $5, cash or check only
Did you know that each one of the 700,000 leather footballs Wilson Sporting Goods makes annually comes from Ohio? It's been that way since 1955.
Wilson's factory in Ada, 90 minutes from Columbus, offers a one-hour tour that lets football fans see how the product is created. “You get to see how the footballs are hand-stitched,” said Brown of TourismOhio. “It's not something you think about. There are people lovingly crafting these things we see and use on a daily basis.”
Tours are limited to ages 8 and older, and closed-toed shoes are required. Protective eyewear is provided.