#66. Take a factory tour

IDEA #66. Take a factory tour and write about the experience.

Once a feature of almost every American community with any sort of industry, factory tours are becoming more and more rare. The “offshoring” of manufacturing has not hit all domestic factories, concerns about liability have closed the doors of more and more of the remaining facilities establishments to visitors.

Still, there remain a number of famous and not-so-famous businesses that maintain elaborate factory tours. Many, like those in the food and beverage industry, work hard at attracting and entertaining tourists, and free samples are part of the treat. Others are proud to show off state-of-the-art manufacturing operations and are more likely to appeal to a technically savvy crowd.

Factory tours may be located by word of mouth, by tourist websites (and try an Internet search on “factory tours [yourstate]”), and in one of the several guidebooks that focus on such sites. It’s always best to call ahead, as some tours are by reservation only or occur only at specified hours.

The object here is to get as close as possible to a production process. Mass production and the factory system are the two hallmarks of the Age of Industry, an age that less and less visible in North America. To see raw materials transformed into a finished product is to witness what was two hundred years ago a marvel, and a fast-moving production line, whether it is producing cupcakes or convertibles, can still set the heart racing and the imagination whirring.

For the thinking child, the sight of a factory in production mode is an opportunity to ponder the nature of technology and the nature of industrial society itself. Look closely at the workers or at the automated machinery that may be doing much of the work, and think about what life must have been like when just about everyone who did not live on a farm worked in a factory, with the noise, grit, and superhuman pace an everyday apart of life. Now that much of this work has either been automated or moved to nations whose factories tourists seldom visit, factory tours are as much about a vanishing way of life as they are about producing. A journal entry would be a great way to reflect on such an experience, and any social studies or history teacher would be delighted to hear more if the child were to document the tour in a more public form.

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