Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania may be a land of milk and honey but it’s also a land of pretzels, potato chips, and candy. The Keystone State is a leader in the production of these snack foods and York County, in particular, is home to so many factories that it has become known as the Snack Food Capital of the World. Manufacturers of these savory snacks, however, are located throughout Pennsylvania. Many of the companies that began making snack foods in the Commonwealth a century ago are still in business. Pennsylvania is home to some of the most enduring brands in the country.



A large part of the snack food industry is located in southeastern Pennsylvania where German-speaking immigrants from Europe’s Rhineland, ancestors of the Pennsylvania Germans, arrived beginning in the eighteenth century and farmed the richest soil in the Commonwealth. They brought with them an amazing assortment of foods, including sweets and starches.

One of these foods was the pretzel, a biscuit made of flour, water, salt, and yeast that is kneaded, shaped into a noodle, twisted into a knot, and baked. Settlers ate their pretzels soft and hot, usually soon after cooking them. The hard variety developed in Pennsylvania and caught on in the late nineteenth century as a mass-produced snack food, not only because people enjoyed the crispy variety, but also because the lower moisture content in hard pretzels allowed for a longer shelf life.

The country’s first known commercial bakery to specialize in hard pretzels was established by Julius Sturgis in Lititz, Lancaster County, in 1861. The origins of all good things are often steeped in legend and, according to this tale, it was Sturgis’s kindness to an elderly hobo looking for a meal and a job in 1850 that unwittingly led to his pretzel fortune. Sturgis, who ran a bread bakery, was unable to employ the vagabond but he did feed him. Apparently, with appetite sated, the grateful wanderer shared his secret recipe for crispy pretzels with Sturgis which he subsequently baked and sold. By 1861 the new product had become so successful that Sturgis limited his output solely to pretzels and launched the pretzel bakery.

Through the years hard pretzels remained the Sturgis family’s specialty and by 1948 Julius’s grandson, Marriot D. Sturgis, better known as Tom, began the pretzel company that bears his nickname today. The business has been at its current Shillington, Berks County, location since 1970. Like many pretzel companies Tom Sturgis Pretzels offers, in addition to the classic thick and twisted type, a wide variety of forms, such as sticks and nuggets, and variations using other ingredients or flavorings, including sourdough, whole grain, cheese, peanut butter, and jalapeno. Six generations of the Sturgis family have worked in the pretzel business and proclaim in their company’s slogan they are “America’s first pretzel baking family.” Julius Sturgis’s original pretzel bakery still stands at 219 East Main St. in Lititz and is open for tours during which visitors are invited to twist pretzels by hand in the manner of early bakers.

A number of commercial pretzel bakeries opened as the treat grew wildly popular in the late nineteenth century. One of these bakeries was established in 1888 at 336 North Charlotte St. in Lancaster, and it eventually came under the control of Bill and Herbert Anderson. The father and son team expanded the business, and by the 1920s were operating under the name H. K. Anderson. The company grew throughout the twentieth century, moving to a larger Lancaster plant in 1971 and opening an additional facility in New Holland in 1986. Today H. K. Anderson is a brand of the National Pretzel Company, which was acquired in 2011 by the conglomerate ConAgra Foods of Omaha, Nebraska. Anderson pretzels are still made in Pennsylvania and are distributed nationally.

If York County is the Snack Food Capital of the World then Hanover, nineteen miles southwest of the city of York, is ground central. It was there in the 1920s that a bakery established in the late nineteenth century by the Wege family began making its specialty Sourdough Hard Pretzels. It’s an old story oddly reminiscent of the Sturgis legend. An itinerant German immigrant went to work for the Weges and shared his recipe for hard sourdough pretzels with the family which in turn enjoyed great success with the product and began making it exclusively. Legend or not, the sourdough pretzel became popular in Pennsylvania, allowing Wege of Hanover to expand through the century and begin offering other varieties including Honey Wheat, Butter Style Littles, and the popular Poker Pretzels, sourdough mini-pretzels in the shapes of diamonds, hearts, clubs, and spades. In 2003 Wege of Hanover was acquired by Bickel’s Snack Foods, a division of Hanover Foods, but the classic pretzels are still produced at the North Blettner Avenue facility in Hanover.

Another company that produces pretzels in Hanover is a global snack food giant. Snyder’s of Hanover is actually the consummation of merger, acquisition, and spinoff through the years, which can be traced to 1909, when Harry V. Warehime began making and selling Old Tyme Pretzels for his Hanover Pretzel Company. By 1924 Warehime had incorporated the Hanover Canning Company which included the pretzel line. Meanwhile, another small business was taking shape in Hanover when Edward and Eda Snyder, who had been making potato chips in their home and selling them door-to-door and at market, and their son William V. Snyder and his wife Helen, who made angel food cake in their basement, joined forces in 1924 and opened Snyder’s Bakery at 238 Centennial Ave. By 1940 Snyder’s expanded and moved its operations to a factory with automated production. Seven years later, another pretzel company, Bechtel’s, was established by Bill and Helen Bechtel, who introduced a popular Sourdough Hard Pretzel.

These companies began to come together in 1961, when Snyder’s was sold to Hanover Canning, which became Hanover Brands, and two years later when Bechtel’s was acquired and absorbed by Snyder’s. In 1980 Hanover Brands, now Hanover Foods, spun off Snyder’s of Hanover as an independent business. The result for Snyder’s was enormous growth, an additional plant in Arizona, and new snack food company acquisitions. Snyder’s of Hanover merged in 2010 with Lance, of North Carolina, makers of the popular sandwich crackers, to form Snyder’s-Lance Inc. The Snyder’s branch continues operations in Hanover and, in addition to producing a wide array of pretzel styles, continues to make and market both Old Tyme Pretzels and Sourdough Hard Pretzels.

No discussion of pretzels in Pennsylvania would be complete without mention of Auntie Anne’s which began as a farmers’ market stand in Downingtown, Chester County, in 1988. Soft pretzels have always been a staple in Pennsylvania, famously sold by vendors on the streets of Philadelphia and at sporting events, markets, festivals, stores, and just about anywhere throughout the state. But in its brief span of nearly a quarter-century Auntie Anne’s, headquartered in Lancaster, has taken soft pretzels to a new level and has become an international phenomenon.

Anne and Jonas Beiler began making and selling soft pretzels as a way to finance the building of a family counseling center. Having just reconciled their own tumultuous marriage through counseling, they wanted to do the same for other couples but lacked the money to finance an operation. In 1989 the Auntie Anne’s franchise commenced with the opening of the first store at Saturday’s Market in Middletown, Dauphin County, and the first mall location at Park City in Lancaster. The pretzels became so popular that within two years there were ninety retail locations in twelve states. Auntie Anne’s is now famous not only for its classic original soft pretzels, but also for a variety of flavored styles, including cinnamon sugar, toasted almond toffee, pepperoni and three cheeses, garlic, jalapeno, and raisin. Another popular item, the Pretzel Dog, a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog wrapped in an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, was introduced in 2004. Today there are 1,150 Auntie Anne’s locations in forty-five states and twenty-two countries. The Beilers, who sold the company in 2005, continue to operate their Family Resource and Counseling Centers in Lancaster and nearby Gap.


Potato Chips

The origin of the potato chip is murky, but one popular legend contends they were created in 1853 at the exclusive Moon’s Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York, when a disgruntled patron twice sent his French fried potatoes back to the kitchen, complaining they were sliced too thickly. Piqued, the chef, George “Speck” Crum, allegedly sliced the potatoes as thin as he could and heavily salted and fried them in an effort to make them impossible to eat. Despite Crum’s sabotage, they pleased the diner who asked for a second serving and so was born Saratoga Chips. These nineteenth-century potato chips were hand-peeled, sliced, and cooked in kettles of lard.

It would take further industrialization in the early twentieth century for the potato chip to advance from restaurant side dish to mass-produced snack food which was accomplished with the development of specialized machinery to automatically peel potatoes, a device called the continuous potato chip cooker, and mechanized packaging in glassine and later cellophane storage bags.

Only certain potatoes with special characteristics can be used to make potato chips; these are called chipping potatoes and Pennsylvania grows more than any other state. In the twentieth century a widespread potato chip industry emerged in Pennsylvania and continues to thrive.

The state’s largest independent manufacturer of potato chips is Utz Quality Foods, located in Hanover, the heart of the York County Snack Food Capital of the World. From its earliest days the brand has been easily recognized on store shelves by the package with its trademark rosy-cheeked little girl with red hair ribbon and beaming smile reaching her hand into a bag of chips.

Utz grew from humble origins in 1921, when William and Salie Utz began making potato chips for sale in their summer kitchen, producing fifty pounds an hour. Nine years later they added a plant to the back of their McAllister St. residence. By 1938 they had made the leap to a new factory and brought their son-in-law Francis Xavier “F. X.” Rice on board. Through the years new facilities were purchased and expanded, potato chip production burgeoned, and new lines of pretzels, popcorn, corn chips, and cheese curls were added. The company remains privately held and run by the third generation, grandson Michael W. Rice. The company operates four manufacturing centers for its snack foods, distributes through centers serving twenty-two states on the East Coast, and produces more than one million pounds of potato chips weekly.

At the same time the Utzes began production at their home in 1921 the seeds of another potato chip company were planted 135 miles north in Berwick, Columbia County, when grocer Earl V. Wise found he had a surplus of potatoes and began making chips to sell in his delicatessen. Wise began production on a coal stove in his mother’s kitchen and in the first year distributed the bagged chips by bicycle. Four years later he moved the operation to a remodeled garage, designing and building his own fryers and equipment. Wise was truly an innovator in the industry. For better packaging of his chips he worked with DuPont, making Wise the first snack food company to use cellophane bags. To expand operations he established a network of independent distributors in cities along the East Coast. To better market the product he chose an owl logo whose “wise” eye not only peered from the packages in stores, but also on special owl-shaped roadside signs along highways.

The company continued its success through the 1950s to Wise’s death in 1963, and the following year it was sold to Borden. By this time, Wise was producing a variety of snack foods, including popcorn and the popular Cheese Doodles, a treat of puffed corn meal flavored with powdered cheddar cheese. After Borden suffered a decline in sales and began divesting of its subsidiaries and divisions the company now known as Wise Foods was sold to New York-based Palladium Equity Partners in 2000. The Berwick plant continues to employ new generations of families that worked with Earl Wise, who was recently honored by the industry with a posthumous induction into the Snack Food Association’s Circle of Honor in 2011. The Snack Food Association (SFA) is an international trade society for the industry. Pennsylvania inductees in the SFA’s Circle of Honor include James S. Herr of Herr’s (1997), Michael W. Rice of Utz (2005), and Michael A. Warehime of Snyder’s of Hanover (2009).

Another leader in Pennsylvania, Herr’s, was established in 1946 by James S. Herr who purchased a Lancaster potato chip company for $1,750. Rapidly expanding, operations moved from a family tobacco barn to a bakery in West Willow and then to a large plant in Nottingham, Chester County. In 1958 the company began specializing in flavored chips beginning with barbecue and today it markets more than two dozen varieties including Creamy Dill Pickle, Kansas City Prime Steak, Heinz Ketchup, Old Bay, and Fireman’s BBQ Chicken. Like most potato chip companies in the state, it also produces a variety of snack foods, including tortilla and corn chips, pretzels, popcorn, cheese curls, and salsa. The company is still family owned and operated and in 2005 James S. Herr passed the administration to his son, James M. Herr, now chairman of the board and chief executive officer. The senior Herr died on April 5, 2012.

Bickel’s of York, makes pretzels, cheese curls, and corn and tortilla chips, but is most noted for its “seared” potato chips. It’s now a conglomeration of several snack food companies. The original Bickel’s Potato Chip Company was founded by Luther Bickel in 1954. In 1998 the company was acquired by none other than Hanover Foods; two years later Hanover purchased York Snacks and Bon Ton of York and consolidated the companies as Bickel’s Snack Foods. With Bickel’s and the later acquisition of Wege Pretzels, the company that for many years produced Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels and potato chips again has a full division of snack food companies.

A number of smaller potato chip companies throughout Pennsylvania distribute locally to grocery stores and are beloved in their communities. Good’s, founded by Ralph Good in Adamstown, Lancaster County, in 1886 and now in its fifth generation of ownership, is one of the earliest potato chip manufacturers still in business today. Other notable companies are Gibble’s in Chambersburg, Franklin County, Martin’s in Thomasville, York County, and Middleswarth in Middleburg, Snyder County. A lucrative Internet industry has emerged to sell and ship these local favorites to Pennsylvanians living in other states.



Pennsylvania is home to a multitude of candy companies, big and small, but none as large as The Hershey Company, the largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America. Much has been written about the company’s founder Milton Snavely Hershey and his rise from local caramel confectioner to worldwide chocolate emperor. It’s a story steeped in Americana, about a young entrepreneur of humble origins who developed his trade, buying chocolate-making equipment at the legendary 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, experimenting with products, and selling his first classic Milk Chocolate Bar in the watershed year of 1900. Although Hershey’s Chocolate sprang from the successful Lancaster Caramel Company founded by Hershey in 1886, it became a separate business by 1894, making chocolate novelties and coatings for other candy products.

Hershey correctly surmised that chocolate was the future of candy, and he eventually abandoned the caramel enterprise. He developed a company town in Derry Township, Dauphin County, for his workers and constructed a factory at its center, all of which was in place by 1905. As the business grew, Hershey expanded the offerings, manufacturing candy that has become iconic: Hershey Kisses, in 1907; Milk Chocolate with Almonds Bar, in 1908; Mr. Goodbar, a chocolate bar with peanuts, in 1925; and Krackel, a chocolate bar with crisped rice, in 1938.

As Hershey’s continued to expand a former employee of the company, H. B. Reese, began his own candy venture nearby in the basement of his house in 1923. Five years later, he formulated a new treat, a round candy cup with a peanut butter center and a chocolate coating, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Sugar shortages during World War II compelled Reese to scrap his other candy lines and focus exclusively on the popular peanut butter cups. Not long after he died the company was purchased in 1963 by Hershey Foods. Today Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is The Hershey Company’s best-selling candy. According to data gathered by market research firm SymphonyIRI Group for a period of fifty-two weeks ending on June 12, 2011, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ranked as the second best-selling chocolate candy in America, having sold 366.2 units and generating $398.9 million in revenue. Incidentally, the chocolate candy that came in first place was M&Ms, manufactured by confectionary giant Mars Inc., headquartered in McLean, Virginia, which operates plants throughout the United States, including one in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County.

In the shadow of Hershey’s is Wilbur Chocolate in nearby Lititz. The company has continued to produce quality chocolate through the years, despite frequent mergers, spinoffs, and buyouts. The story began in 1865 when H. O. Wilbur went into business with candymaker Samuel Croft of Philadelphia forming Croft and Wilbur, which originally made hard candy and molasses treats, but eventually began manufacturing chocolate. Nineteen years later the company separated with H. O. Wilbur & Sons taking the chocolate part of the business. The company grew and was under third-generation control by 1905. After merging with a Swiss company in 1928 the new Wilbur-Suchard had two additional factories in Lititz and Newark, New Jersey, but by 1930 the company left Philadelphia and in 1934 the Newark facility was sold, bringing all operations to the Lititz plant. Suchard was eventually dropped in 1958 and the company was renamed Wilbur Chocolate Company. Beginning in 1968 it was sold and resold to several corporations before its acquisition in 1992 by its current owner, Cargill, a privately held company employing 142,000 individuals in 66 countries. Wilbur makes chocolate coatings and cocoa products for candy manufacturers, bakeries, and chocolatiers, as well as a line of its own chocolate candies for consumers. Its famous Wilbur Buds, chocolate drops similar to Hershey Kisses, were developed in 1894 predating Kisses by thirteen years.

A number of other candies were conceived and manufactured in Pennsylvania. One classic candy bar that has held on for dear life through the years, the Clark Bar, was created in Pittsburgh in 1917 by the D. L. Clark Company. A peanut butter crisp center coated with chocolate, the Clark Bar became popular when it was shipped to American soldiers fighting in World War I. The company was acquired in 1955 by the Beatrice Foods Company whose confectionary products were sold to Leaf in 1983. When Leaf planned to move operations from Pittsburgh the city stepped in to save the Clark Bar, and it was sold and became a product of the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Company until 1995. The short-lived Clark Bar America lasted until 1999 when the bar was sold to the New England Confectionary Company, better known as NE CCO, where it is now manufactured in Revere, Massachusetts, far from its original home. Another D. L. Clark candy creation, the Zagnut, a bar of peanut butter crisp coated with toasted coconut that first appeared in 1930, went on a different course after the Leaf acquisition, remaining with the company until its North American confectionary division was sold to Hershey’s in 1996.

An extremely popular candy that originated in Pennsylvania and is now part of The Hershey Company’s line-up is Twizzlers. The licorice twist treat has its roots in the Young and Smylie Company, later Y&S candies, which was established in 1845 in Brooklyn, New York. After a merger with two other companies in 1902 it became the National Licorice Company until the name was changed back to Y&S Candies in 1968. Hershey’s acquired Y&S and Twizzlers in 1977, the same year the Lancaster plant was constructed.

Boyer, a company founded by brothers Bill and Bob Boyer in Altoona in 1936, began specializing in cup candies, most notably the Mallow Cup, marshmallow coated in chocolate, and the Smoothie, peanut butter coated in butterscotch. The company was sold in 1969 to American Maize and then sold again in 1984 to Consolidated Brands, but the cups are still manufactured at the original Altoona plant.

Peanut Chews, a candy of molasses and peanuts covered in imitation dark chocolate and sold in a package of bite-sized pieces, was introduced by Goldenberg’s, Philadelphia, in 1917, also initially for distribution to American troops in World War I. After many generations of family ownership Goldenberg’s was sold in 2003 to Just Born Inc. of Bethlehem, Northampton County.

Just Born originated in Brooklyn, New York, where Russian immigrant Sam Born, an innovator who had developed a machine for inserting sticks in lollipops, opened a store in 1923 that advertised freshly made candy that had been “just born.” The candy business expanded and in 1932 Just Born acquired a former printing factory in Bethlehem where it commenced production. In 1940 the company began producing Mike and Ike, fruit-flavored, bean-shaped candy chews that became a movie matinee favorite, and ten years later it debuted a cinnamon-flavored treat, Hot Tamales. The acquisition of the Rodda Candy Company of Lancaster in 1953 brought Just Born its most iconic product, the yellow-dyed, sugar-coated sweet shaped like a baby chick, the Marshmallow Peep. Born’s son Bob was involved in mechanizing the production of the Eastertide confection. The company is now in its third generation of family ownership and makes peeps in several bright colors including green, lavender, pink, and blue, in addition to rabbits in a variety of equally colorful hues. Just Born also makes marshmallow treats for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Several chocolate candy manufacturers of various sizes are located in communities throughout Pennsylvania. One of the most successful is Gertrude Hawk Chocolates of Dunmore, Lackawanna County. Founder Gertrude Hawk began making candy for sale in her kitchen in Scranton to help her family get by during the Great Depression. The company grew following World War II when Hawk’s son Elmer joined the company and used his military service pay to buy time-saving machinery which he kept improving through the years, and particularly after his mother began marketing the chocolates as fundraisers for local churches and organizations. By 1962 the company had moved to a new factory in Dunmore and in the early 1970s Elmer’s son, Dave, came on board, initiating the idea to open a chain of retail stores. Today Gertrude Hawk Chocolates is a multimillion-dollar business, still selling through fundraisers and at seventy-five retail shops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

In addition to pretzels, potato chips, and candy, several other snack food companies in Pennsylvania are worth a quick mention: Tastykake in Philadelphia has been in business since 1914, making such lunchbox favorites as Krimpets, Kandy Kakes, Koffee Kake Juniors, and other packaged pastries; A-Treat soda, operating in Allentown since 1918, makes a variety of soft drinks and is particularly famed for its cream soda, sarsaparilla, and birch beer; and the more recent Herlocher’s in State College produces dipping mustard for pretzels, with the licensed names of NCAA colleges and universities on specialty labels, that has become popular across the nation.

Hundreds of snacks, candies, and beverages are produced in the Keystone State on a more regional level. The companies and their brands have been an integral part of Pennsylvania’s economy for more than a century, satisfying the sweet and salty desires of snack lovers, not only in the state itself but across the nation and, in some cases, around the world. As long as there is a demand for snack foods it seems apparent that Pennsylvania, with its host of long-lasting manufacturers, will remain a leading provider.


Factory Tours

For travelers with a sweet tooth, (and an appetite for history), the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau has packaged a number of appetizing food factory tours. In addition to Martin’s Potato Chips, Snyder’s of Hanover, Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, and Utz Quality Foods, tours are also offered by the Wolfgang Candy Company, Sweet Willows Creamery, and Naylor Wine Cellars. Miss Lucy’s Dog Treats welcomes owners and fanciers of pet canines. To plan your visit to York County’s Snack Food Capital of the World, visit York County Factory Tours.

Lancaster County – famous for its Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbords – is also home to snack food companies offering factory tours. To learn more about visiting the Intercourse Pretzel Factory, Herr’s, and Kreider Farms, go to Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center.

Touting itself as “the sweetest place on earth,” Hershey has two world-class attractions awaiting chocolate lovers. Hershey’s Chocolate World offers a free simulated factory tour ride, complete with a free sample, in addition to a number of hands-on activities. The Hershey Story, a museum dedicated to the history and legacy of Milton S. Hershey and the confections he created, traces the inspiring rags-to-riches story of the chocolatier who used his personal fortune to enrich the lives of others.

Just Born Inc. in Bethlehem provides a Just Born virtual tour. To learn more about exciting destinations throughout the Keystone State go to Visit PA.


The editor wishes to thank the following for their gracious assistance in providing images to illustrate this feature: Rob Mayer, Public Relations Coordinator, York County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Amy Bischof, Director, The Hershey Story; Tammy L. Hamilton, Archivist, Hershey Community Archives; Shannon M. Zimmerman, Senior Public Relations Specialist, Auntie Anne’s; Ellie Deardorf, Publicist, Just Born Inc.; and Brita Jenquin, Julius Sturgis Pretzel Company.


Kyle R. Weaver, a resident of New Cumberland, is an acquisitions editor for Stackpole Books, headquartered in Mechanicsburg. He has written previous features for Pennsylvania Heritage and is the revising author of the second edition of Diners of Pennsylvania.