Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Marauding Indians Built the Pretzel Industry by Ronald Rabenold

Most local Pennsylvanians know a good pretzel. And many here on the Eastern end of the state have made the trip to Litiz, Lancaster County to the oldest pretzel bakery in the nation (world?).
Once there you can still hand twist your own pretzel and have it baked in the original bake oven built by Er Bauet Von Peterkreiter in 1784.

Along the long chain of my whimsical meandering historical readings, I found one newspaper source from the 1970s that claimed Julius Sturgis, who began commercially baking pretzels in 1861, was the great grandson of Joseph Sturgis.

Who was Joseph Sturgis you ask? He was the 17-year-old youth who was the first to jump from the burning roof of the Meeting House during the Gnadenhutten Massacre here in Lehighton on November 24, 1755. (This incident was incited by General Braddock’s defeat from the French at Fort Duquesne in July of 1755.)

The original burial site is beyond between the barn and the tree.

According to the Lehighton Centennial book of 1966, “He leaped to the burning roof and thence to the ground, his hair singed and his cheek bleeding where a rifle ball had grazed it. He escaped, and lived to tell the horrible story for many years later.”

 Many of us around here enjoy a good pretzel. When traveling outside the area, it doesn’t take long to realize the wealth of pretzels we enjoy here. Visiting my brother in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was struck that they only had “Rold Gold” pretzels from Frito Lay.

We have many local companies that make a quality product: Unique Splits and Martins are my top two favorites. There’s also Faller’s, Snyders of Hanover, Utz, Sturgis, Bachman’s and more.  Had Joseph died in those flames, what would have been the impact to the Pennsylvania pretzel industry?

It brings us to the modern day Litiz, Pennsylvania, to the Tom Sturgis Pretzel factory.  It is also interesting to note that the original sturdy Sturgis Bakery was built with heavy wooden doors with iron strap hinges and with cellar windows built with gun slats to wardoff Indian attacks.  I connect in my mind the harrowing experience of a young lad and the accompanying hypervigilance that came in his older age.

Left - The original Sturgis pretzel oven still in use today.
Above, Right - The original Sturgis pretzel bakery from 1861.


  1. Hi Ronald, I had to google pretzel! I didn't realise they came in such an array of sizes. Very interesting.

    Re Christmas. Yes I agree. Christmas here represents the summer holidays. The children get 8-9 weeks off school, going back in early Feb. At Christmastime we get a lot of the American movies on TV showing lovely winter Christmas'. I often wish for a 'white Christmas'. :o)

  2. I look forward to learning more about your culture through your site...THANX for have a nice site...

    And Pretzels are a food group here in Pennsylvania Dutch area...take care..

  3. I am totally craving pretzles now, :P