At one time, Reading was home to about 26 different pretzel bakeries, earning it the nickname Pretzel City.
Julius Sturgis is credited with opening the first commercial pretzel company in the United States in 1861 in Lititz; later moving the enterprise to Berks County in 1924. His plant produced the first hard pretzels. Tom Sturgis brought the business to Reading in 1946 where they’ve been busy baking pretzels ever since. Other pretzel companies followed as the demand for pretzels increased.
An article by Anne C. Friedmann in the April 1948 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County, titled “Reading, Pretzel Capital of the World,” stated that Reading produced one-third of all the pretzels baked in the U.S.
Freeport, IL is now known as the “Pretzel City” and its public high school’s team is named the Pretzels. The nickname is a reminder of Freeport’s ethnic heritage; in the late 1850s, many Germans, both from Pennsylvania and from their European homeland, resettled in Stephenson County bringing with them their love of pretzel snacks. In 1869, a German immigrant named John Billerbeck established the Billerbeck Bakery, which distributed so many pretzels to residents that the local newspaper later dubbed Freeport the “Pretzel City”. The city later capitalized on this nickname in 2003 by starting Freeport’s first Pretzel Festival.
Although Reading may no longer be Pretzel City, Pennsylvania remains the pretzel capital of America, producing about 80 percent of the pretzels made in the U.S.
There are still several pretzel companies in the Reading area churning out a variety of products, from traditional hard and soft pretzels to pretzel sticks, stuffed pretzels and chocolate-covered pretzels.
Just a few miles away from Tom Sturgis Pretzels is Unique Pretzels, another family-owned pretzel company. Paul Spannuth started their business in 1921. They create several popular pretzel varieties. Their most popular pretzel is the original split.
In 1911, Edward J. Faller opened his pretzel bakery at 528 Moss Street in Reading, PA. To this day, Faller’s Pretzel Sticks are still baked at the same location, in a brick oven and dried in a slow drying kiln. The current owners are Mike and Phyllis Hechinger.