In 1850, Julius Sturgis owned a bread business in Lititz. That year, he provided a homeless man with dinner. According to legend, the homeless man had been on a train that went behind Julius Sturgis’ bread business.
The intriguing story about the origin of the Pretzel and its emergence in the U.S. is just as interesting as the pretzel itself. Pretzel’s early roots can be traced to Southern Germany where it is typically credited as the birthplace of soft pretzels. As early as the 12th century, German pretzel bakers used the pretzel shape in the emblem for their guild (kind of like a union), and also for their coat of arms.
That said, the oldest and most widely accepted story of the origin of pretzels dates back to the beginning of the middle ages, in 610 A.D. The story involves a monk. An Italian monk teaching children in Northern Italy was said to have invented soft little pretzels and called them pretiola or little rewards to reward children for learning their prayers.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only occasion where religion is mentioned in the twisted root of our scrumptious pretzel. Pretzel also has its origin in Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church where it is believed that the pretzel shape represents the holy trinity, the three holes representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Swiss German immigrants introduced German baking traditions to people in the United States particularly in Pennsylvania in the later part of the 18th century. These immigrants who became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch became popular for their freshly baked pretzels. The pretzel's popularity spread until many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the Central Pennsylvania countryside.
In 1850, Julius Sturgis owned a bread business in Lititz. That year, he provided a homeless man with dinner. According to legend, the homeless man had been on a train that went behind Julius Sturgis’ bread business. He disembarked from the train after sighting the bakery to get food and maybe a job. However, Julius did not have a job vacancy, nonetheless, he fed the man and the man in return gave Julius a pretzel recipe.
Julius had to first test the recipe on his family since he’s never baked pretzels before. In 1861, Sturgis opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The recipe had proven to be so popular that Julius had to stop his bakery to make pretzels for his teaming customers.
As American pretzel production increased, baked snacks were made in different shapes and sizes. All different types of delicious pretzels became popular as pretzel baking took a stronghold, including those with sweet flavors like cinnamon and gingerbread. The Sturgis bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania, became the first commercial hard pretzel bakery. Unlike soft pretzels, these were durable when kept in an airtight environment and marketable in a variety of convenience stores. Large-scale production began in the first half of the 1900s, more so from 1930 to 1950.
The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $1.2 billion. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation's pretzels. Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry. The average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.
Until the 1930s, pretzels were still manufactured by hand. But in 1935, the Reading Pretzel Machinery Company introduced the first automated pretzel maker, which enabled bakers to put out some 245 pretzels per minute, compared with the 40 per minute an individual worker could make by hand.
Pennsylvania remains the American Pretzel-making capital. Sturgis' family still bakes pretzels using the same recipe Julius used to start his pretzel bakery in 1861. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.
The pretzel was a symbol of good luck and was used at weddings ('tying the knot') the way we use a wishbone where the bride and groom each take a side and pull. Pretzels are still given as gifts today for good luck.
Author’s Note: This article is solely for information purposes. The embedded links and information shared in the article are attributed to history.com, en.wikipedia.com, and pretzel.com.
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