In the heart of Lititz, PA, you'll find Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Founded in 1861, the pretzel bakery on East Main Street is the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the country, and it is still running, serving warm pretzels every single day.
The pretzel bakery is located in the historic downtown area of Lititz. Aside from the large pretzel shape in the front, the house looks like any other house in town, but it's got a rich history. Sturgis Pretzel House was built in 1784 by a man named Peter Kreiter and is one of the original structures in Lititz. The house was built from stones taken from the streets and timber from the forest nearby. The house is on the list of National Register of Historical Places.
In 1861, Julius Sturgis bought the house at 219 E. Main Street in Lititz. He was 26 years old at the time, and he had a clear vision for it. He already owned a bread business, but he'd gotten a taste for pretzels and wanted to open his own pretzel bakery.
The very same year that he purchased the house, he opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. Julius lived in the house with his family and added an addition to the house for his bakery. Along with serving soft pretzels to the community, Julius also developed crispy, hard pretzels, which turned out to be a hit nationwide.
Eventually, the pretzel business did so well that he closed his bread business and focused on pretzels only.
Pretzels run in the Sturgis family. Ever since its opening, the pretzel bakery has been run by members of the Sturgis family. Marriott Sturgis, born in 1910, was Julius's grandson. He was nicknamed Tom Sturgis because he worked alongside his uncle Tom, and the two of them had similar baking styles. Tom's family moved to Reading, PA, where they continued to work in pretzel bakeries. He and his brother opened their own pretzel bakery in Reading in 1936 called Sturgis Brothers. Due to the drafts for World War II, they had to close down the business.
Back home after serving in the war, Sturgis returned to the pretzel baking industry and in 1946, Marriott Sturgis established another bakery in Reading, PA, called Tom Sturgis Pretzels. In 1970, they moved the factory to Shillington, PA, a suburb of Reading, where they still operate today.
The Sturgis family also manages Julius Sturgis's original pretzel bakery on E. Main Street in Lititz. Five generations of pretzel baking have made the Sturgis family The First Family of Pretzels, as they are often called locally.
Some things change over time, but the pretzel recipe they use in the kitchen at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, PA, has stayed the same. To this day the Sturgis family still bakes pretzels using the same recipe Julius used to start his pretzel bakery back in the 1800s.
Pretzels were originally made by hand from start to finish. As technology progressed, parts of the procedure were mechanized. Although pretzel machinery has changed the industry over the years, the Sturgis family still bake some of their pretzels on a soapstone hearth surface. If you're in Lititz you can drop by the pretzel bakery on E. Main Street and observe their bakers twisting old-fashioned soft pretzels by hand.
Pretzels have put Pennsylvania on the map as the center of pretzel production in the U.S., making 80 percent of the nation's supply. The industry is worth more than $550 million annually in the U.S. That number translates to a lot of pretzels, and the average American eats more than 1.5 pounds of pretzels each year.