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Manufacturing as a Vacation Destination

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading. I suppose that’s why there’s such a thing as summer reading; it starts in grade school and extends a lifetime (or so goes the theory).

My initial attempt at summer reading was complemented by a July 4th military flyover of two F16 jets. The jaw-dropping visual and ear-popping soundtrack to celebrating the birth of this great country of ours was a sobering reminder of current world events. It was a reminder of the awesomeness of American manufacturing. The ubiquity of all things manufactured did not escape even my vacation-dulled mind, not even with my feet in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina sand I might add, with an American-made beer by my side.

I started my summer reading catch-up with the June 1972 Issue (No. 151) of MAD magazine. I used the words catch-up intentionally. I am a little backlogged. I am also attempting to be among the first people (if not the only person) to reference MAD magazine on this otherwise erudite blog site.

In June of 1972, MAD went out of its way to lampoon the state of affairs in American manufacturing in their cover story which “proudly salutes American industry in its endless quest for quality, perfection, and high standards of production.” They intentionally misprinted every cover to accentuate their point. Check this out…

Absolutely hysterical.

The story inside the magazine, “MAD’s Auto Manufacturer of the Year,” was not all that funny save for the fictitious Mr. Edsel Lemmon quipping, “No, business is very rotten these days! Those aren’t new cars rolling out of the plant! They’re last year’s cars rolling back into the plant to have their mechanical defects fixed.” So it goes when MAD magazine takes a swing at you.

That was then. Today it’s different; so different, in fact, that in the July/August 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics (a friend sent the article to me) there is an entire section dedicated to visiting manufacturing plants as a vacation destination. If that’s not enough for you, feel free to geek-out knowing that this issue is also the Olympic Innovation Issue.

The opening line in the manufacturing vacation story reads, “There’s probably no escaping taking the kids to an amusement park this summer—sweltering in long lines and paying for overpriced junk food. But when that torment is over, take them to a different kind of theme park, one you’ll both enjoy: an American factory.” Although, don’t forget, almost everything at an amusement park that you see and touch and ride and eat is manufactured. It all had to be made.

Featured plants include John Deere in Waterloo, IA, Harley Davidson in York, PA, Boeing in Everett, WA and Chevy’s Corvette plant in Bowling Green, KY. They threw in Airstream in Center City, OH, too. That’s iconic. The names are obvious and so are the products. The article doesn’t stop with the obvious though. Popular Mechanics recommends visiting Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Kingston, RI, where the plant tour includes watching two giant pieces of granite (2000 pounds per piece) mash grain and corn. It’s not 4th of July fireworks, but it’s a heck of a show. Fender Guitar, the U.S. Mint and Woolrich (they’ve been making blankets since the 1830s) all made the list.

I want to thank Popular Mechanics, and my friend Bob, for the article. I think the magazine pulled on a thread and expanded a theme that started five years ago on Manufacturing Day (MFG DAY), a day dedicated to showcasing American manufacturing. Last year on MFG DAY, 2,600 organizations held open houses and over 400,000 people visited those facilities. You can see for yourself at This year on MFG DAY, which will be October 7th, 2016, organizers anticipate 3,000 open houses. However, in many ways, Manufacturing Day (as Popular Mechanics pointed out) is every day.

So if manufacturing can’t be a family vacation destination there’s always October. And after a MFG Day visit you may find that manufacturing becomes much more than that. According to a 2014 Deloitte survey, those familiar with manufacturing are twice as likely to encourage a child to pursue a manufacturing career. As a seventh grader wrote to my colleague Zara Brunner after she visited his classroom at the Robert Frost Middle School, “manufacturing is actually something I never thought was cool, but when you told us about it, it sounded like the coolest job on earth.” Now that’s good summer reading.

About the author

Mark Schmit

Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP), since 1988, has been committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing, continually evolving to meet the changing needs of manufacturers. As division chief for regional and state partnerships, Mark is the lead for division policy and has assisted in the development of programs supporting manufacturing and industrial extension technology-based economic development, and entrepreneurship practices with state elected officials and policy makers, including the MEP policy academies, which were designed by MEP and partners to help states build upon existing strategies, leverage available resources, and spur creative new ideas about how to address major challenges or leverage opportunities around the manufacturing sector.  Mark is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. He was an MEP co-lead for the creation of MFG Day, an outreach program held on the first Friday in October to show students, parents, and the public what modern manufacturing is all about, with growing annual participation across the United States. Mark was a 2001, 2005, 2014, and 2020 recipient of NIST’s George Uriano Award.  The George Uriano Award recognizes outstanding achievements by NIST staff in building and strengthening NIST extramural programs and partnerships.

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