Step Behind the Scenes with These Totally Fascinating Midwest Factory Tours

Check out these tours for a firsthand look at how Midwest goods like snowmobiles, chocolate and even parade floats get made.

Manufacturing helped build the Midwest as a global economic and cultural force. These factory tours give insights into the process of creating what we eat, what we put in our homes, how we move around, and the ways we celebrate. Before you go: Check websites for reservation information, cost, age limits and accessibility limitations.

Askinosie Chocolate
Askinosie Chocolate. Courtesy of Springfield, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Bureau

Food + Drink

Askinosie Chocolate, Springfield, Missouri

Small-batch is a big deal here, as are personal relationships—Askinosie deals directly with every farmer growing their cocoa beans. The company has won numerous national and international awards for their bars, cocoa powders, and confections. Regular 45-minute tours step off Mondays at 3 p.m. For the month before Christmas, founder and CEO Shawn Askinosie leads special Saturday tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. And here's a sweet deal: Every tour gets you a 10 percent discount in the chocolate shop.

More to try: Go behind the scenes with DeBrand Fine Chocolates in Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate in St. Louis.

People touring Bell's Comstock brewery
Bell's Comstock. Courtesy of Bell's Brewery

Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, Michigan

The good folks at Bell's started their now-huge operation in a 15-gallon soup pot in 1985, and they love showing off their humble beginnings. At the flagship facility in Kalamazoo, a 45-minute tour includes a peek at the 15-barrel system that produced the first batches of popular Two Hearted and Oberon brews. The nearby Bell's Comstock brewery also gives regular tours. Keep an eye on the website for special tours like the Hopslam, where guests can try a hop rub.

More to try: The three-hour Hard Hat tour at Wisconsin's New Glarus Brewing Co. includes a behind-the-scenes visit to both the original Riverside brewery and the new Hilltop brewery, plus a beer and cheese pairing. Milwaukee earns its Brew City nickname through a variety of brewery tours. Grand Rapids, Michigan, aka Beer City, also offers multiple brewery production tours.

Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin

Cedar Grove Cheese, about 35 miles west of Madison, has worked with local dairy farmers for more than 100 years to source milk for its premium cheeses. Factory tours are available on request; visitors learn about the history and art of cheesemaking as well as the economics of small-scale production. The on-site store sells fresh-from-the-vat cheese curds as well as daily cheese specials.

Marieke Gouda with Gouda wheels
Marieke Gouda. Courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin

More to Try: In Thorp, Wisconsin, college students lead guided farm tours at Marieke Gouda during the summer; in other months, visitors are still welcome to the farm where award-winning Gouda is made. The National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe, Wisconsin, tells the story of cheesemaking in Green County and sponsors occasional cheesemaking demonstrations. Open seasonally.

Courtesy of Faribault Mill

Home Goods

Faribault Mill, Faribault, Minnesota

It's a trip to the heart of cozy when you walk inside a woolen mill with more than 150 years of operation under its belt. Faribault Mill sits astride the Cannon River, and with a combination of century-old and modern equipment and processes, the mill creates high-quality throws, blankets, scarves and other accessories. Tours leave Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations recommended.

Woman working with bowl at Kohler Factory
Kohler Factory. Courtesy of Destination Kohler

Kohler Tubs and Fixtures, Kohler, Wisconsin

You may not have given a second thought to the humble bath fixtures in your house, but you'll never look at them the same way after taking the factory tour at Kohler's world HQ. As you walk through foundry, pottery, and brass-building sections, you'll see the origins of china lavatories and exquisite cast-iron soaking tubs, as well as learn the history of this immigrant-built business and town.

Factory tours are scheduled on request, begin at 8:15 a.m. and last for about 3 hours. The production facility is just one of the tourable parts of the Kohler complex: see the surrounding gardens, adjacent resort hotel, Art Walk and Kohler Design Center through guided or self-guided tours (some areas are limited to resort guests).

Stained glass window showing workers making glass
Courtesy of Kokomo Opalescent Glass

Kokomo Opalescent Glass, Kokomo, Indiana

This producer of art glass and other fine-glass products, in business since the late 1800s, takes visitors on a detailed exploration of the inner workings. The company's stained glass and dalle de verre (slab of glass) panes grace churches all over the world, and you can see the process from start to finish in a 75-minute tour. Tours accommodate up to 20 people and are offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.; advance reservations required.

More to Try: In Logan, Ohio, see how washboards are made on guided tours of the Columbus Washboard Co. Kendrick Forest Products in Edgewood, Iowa, offers seasonal tours that go through Iowa's largest sawmill as well as the custom cabinet shop and other stops.

Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

Moving Around

Ford Rouge Factory, Dearborn, Michigan

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour guides visitors through the automaker's history and above the assembly line of the company's most technologically advanced plant, which turns out the popular F-150 pickup truck. Catwalks offers bird's-eye views of the plant's floor; a multisensory film experience (think vibrating seats and gusting wind) gives a peek at engineering innovation. Learn about the company's sustainable manufacturing efforts by checking out the building's solar-power equipment and its living roof.

The Parade Company, Detroit

Clowns, flamingos and aliens peek out from around every corner of this Detroit mainstay, the home and production facility for most of what viewers experience during America's Thanksgiving Parade each November. See the parade floats being assembled, but remember to dress for the weather: the warehouse is not overly climate-controlled. Tour times vary through the seasons.

Snowmobiles inside a factory showroom
Courtesy of Polaris Inc.

Polaris Snowmobiles, Roseau, Minnesota

Adventure seekers will find the need for speed satisfied by a deep dive into the world of sporty vehicles like ATVs and snowmobiles, both of which come off the Polaris line here. A free, one-hour tour takes guests through the process, from welding to the final painted decoration. No free sample snowmobiles at the end, but it might just inspire your own future purchase! Tours Monday-Friday at 2 p.m.

More to Try: See how Airstream trailers are built on tours in Jackson Center, Ohio. In Forest City, Iowa, learn how Winnebago motorhomes and camper vans are built; tours generally run April through October. John Deere, with multiple ag equipment manufacturing sites in Iowa and Illinois, offers tours that vary by location.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles