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This IS your father's Oldsmobile: A poster from a bygone era.
This IS your father's Oldsmobile: A poster from a bygone era.

Continued: Factory tours

For her book and exhibit, Marsh is concentrating on factory tours for food, cars and automotive supplies, as well as mail-order and construction. She is highlighting examples of each, including Heinz, Shredded Wheat, Pabst-Schlitz Brewing, Hershey, Ford, Firestone, Sears and Larkin mail-order businesses, Hoover Dam and Tennessee Valley Authority.

To answer the question of what these tours meant for companies and to visitors and how complex engineering feats reflected a changing society, Marsh has studied extensive materials that range from company records and brochures to guidebooks for visitors and scripts used by tour guides. She said memorabilia, including product giveaways, cookbooks, stereoviews (popular 3D photographs) and factory postcards for visitors, provide valuable information.

“Postcards were given free at the time, and people liked sharing what they saw with friends and family,” Marsh said. “I’ve literally read more than a thousand postcards, many from the Smithsonian’s archives and many that I’ve purchased on eBay.”

Marsh also has interviewed people who have sold factory tour memorabilia items on eBay. She said their memories of the factories are often vivid because tour experiences involve the spectrum of senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.

This spring, graduate students in Marsh’s museum-management class will become curators for the McKissick Museum exhibit, writing text panels and object cards and procuring objects and images for the exhibit.

Marsh said the exhibit and book stop at 1940 because that year represented the peak of factory tours. American attendance began to wane by the 1950s as questions about safety of visitors on factory floors were raised. To continue to keep consumer interest, many companies created attractions with recreated factory-tour elements. Among the most well known are The Crayola Factory, Hershey’s Chocolate World and Coca Cola’s World of Coke.

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