Industrial Tours

I love walking a plant floor. Unfortunately, most of what I see from working with customers can’t go out on the Internet, and if I do have photos, they are under NDA.  My son loves the show How It’s Made on the Science Channel, which is another great avenue for seeing how different plant operations work – I love finding exhibits to take him to.


Located at Boeing headquarters in Everett Washington, this is a must see.  I’ve done the tour twice, once in 1994 and then again in 2008.  Photos were not allowed during either tour.  The tour is well set up, at one point you are above the plant floor on catwalks looking down on assembly areas for at least 3 different kinds of large airplane.  It was amazing to see the slowly progressing planes being assembled slowly march towards the exit doors from the hangar.  From a production standpoint, the 2008 tour which highlighted the giant ovens where they heated the synthetic wing-body module was extremely impressive.  (1994, 2008)

This is a must-see industrial tour.

Bourbons, Breweries & Wine

As part of an annual guys’ baseball trip and tours with my wife, I’ve seen many breweries, both large and smaller.  Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, MO , Coors in Golden, CO, Red Hook in Woodinville, WA and many craft brewers.  For a wedding in 2003 my wife and I also took the Bourbon trail in Kentucky, which let us see the plant operations at Jim Beam and Makers’ Mark.  We’ve also had the fortune to see wineries around the Barossa, Burgundy, Napa, and Yarra.  The manufacturing component adds to the fun of these visits.

Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in Six Glasses, said it best when he was on the Triangulation Podcast (Episode 126) – “I’m treating both drinks and food as technologies.”  Beverage facility tours are great from a manufacturing and technology standpoint.  (1998 – Present)

Carrie Furnaces

This is my favorite tour on the list – the site is open limited hours, mostly on weekend and a self-guided walk (with tourguides at marked points of interest) can take 30 minutes to a full day.  Located 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, this site previously held six blast furnaces, two of which are still standing, but in ruined condition.  The plants were purchased after being originally built in 1892 to become part of Carnegie Steel and held many different advanced technologies over their time until they were closed in 1982.  (2013)

Czech Glass Makers

Glass blowing is similar in many to textile making – these are old industries that can now be both the basis of artwork and industrial scale manufacturing.  Both are global in scope.  I had the good fortune to visit the Ajeto facility in the North of the Czech Republic, where we were able to blow our own beer mugs, see their production methods and see the early work they had done with Dale Chihuly.  (2013)

GE Aircraft Engine Facility

A GE J47; Over 30,000 were built.

As part of getting an MBA at UNC, we toured a number of NC based manufacturing sites – this was one of my favorites.   At the time of our tour in 2005 they were just tooling up to work with engines large enough to drive a car through, and at the same time still making small engines for light planes.  Their quality standards and methods were exceptional, as to be expected.   Seeing the fitted tool cases where every tool and part that came out was slotted back or accounted for, lest a wrench leave in an engine, was really impressive.  (2005)

The Henry Ford

I’ve been on the grounds of, run through and driven past the Henry Ford Museum and Village many times, but have never had enough time to venture inside.  It is in Dearborn, Michigan.  (No visit yet)

Lowell Mills

Working looms.

This site outside of Boston, MA is a close second to the Carrie Furnaces.  The Lowell National Historic Park includes a canal system, multiple classic buildings and working belt-powered looms.  There is even a history of the brief failed efforts to make computers in Lowell in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  You can easily spend a day at this site and there are many great things to photograph and learn. (2012)

National Museum of Industrial History

This museum, which is a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and housed in Bethlehem, PA, is still in the planning phases.  [It is clearly an industrial museum, as it has one of the worst websites since Geocities folded.]  (No visit yet)

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Located 45 minutes from CLT airport and 2 hours from RDU, this museum does a great job of linking transportation and industrial might.  The site’s dominant architectural element is the largest surviving roundhouse (37 bays) in North America, and it is full of industrial locomotives of all types and eras.  After talking a guide into a lighting 30 minute tour after hours for an international friend who was in town, my guest returned the following weekend for a full day – this is a great site to visit.  (2003 – present)

The Bob Julian roundhouse, then and now.

Pensacola Dam

Pensacola Dam

As kids growing up in Oklahoma, Grand Lake was one of our favorite places to visit.  Taking the tour of Pensacola Dam, the largest multiple arch dam in the world, holding back nearly 50,000 surface acres of water, was an annual pilgrimage.  In addition to the massive concrete engineering, we could see the turbines and the power plant which made the project possible.  Having since toured other hydro, coal and alternative energy production sites, Pensacola Dam was a great first exposure. (1980s)

The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has many industrial exhibits, two of the best permanent exhibits are Power Machinery and Electricity: Lighting a Revolution.  The size of the equipment and depth of the educational materials provided are extremely impressive.  There are pistons over three stories tall and enough material to spend half a day walking the floor.  (2004)

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