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In 1861, Pretzel Twisting Was The Second Highest-Paying Job In The Philadelphia Region

National Pretzel Day on April 26th recognizes one of America’s favorite snacks.  A bag of nice crunchy, salty pretzels or a big, warm, soft, cinnamon pretzel is the question of the day.  Either one is an excellent choice.

There are a few different accounts of the origin of the pretzel.  Most people agree that it does have a Christian background, and they were developed by the monks.

  • According to The History of Science and Technology, in 610 AD, “an Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers.  He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, pretiola (little rewards).”
  • Another source puts the invention in a monastery in southern France. The looped pretzel may also be related to a Greek Ring bread from the communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago.
  • In the Catholic Church, pretzels had a religious significance for both ingredients and shape.
  • The Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants introduced pretzels to North America in the 19th century.  At this time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated central Pennsylvania, and their popularity quickly spread.
  • It was in the 20th century that soft pretzels became very popular in areas such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.
  • The average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.
  • Pennsylvania is the center of American pretzel production for both hard and soft pretzels, producing 80% of the nation’s pretzels.
  • The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds of pretzels per year.
  • Philadelphia opened a privately run “Pretzel Museum” in 1993. (Temporarily Closed)
  • Hard pretzels originated in the United States in 1850.
  • In 1861, pretzel twisting was the second highest-paying job in the Philadelphia region. Today, machines do the twisting, although at some artisan shops, tourists can still see it done the old-fashioned way.
  • In the 18th century, German children would wear pretzel necklaces at the beginning of a new year for prosperity, health and good fortune.
  • In the 17th century, pretzels were known as a marriage knot. Pretzel legend has it that in 1614 in Switzerland,  royal couples used a pretzel in their wedding ceremonies (similar to how a wishbone might be used today) to seal the bond of matrimony, and this custom may have been the origin of the phrase “tying the knot.”
  • Perhaps because of its religious roots, the pretzel has long been considered a good-luck symbol. German children wear pretzels around their necks on New Year’s Day. In Austria in the 16th century, pretzels adorned Christmas trees, and they were hidden along with hard-boiled eggs on Easter morning.
  • Hard pretzels were “invented” in the late 1800s, when a snoozing apprentice in a Pennsylvania bakery accidentally overbaked his pretzels, creating crunchy, seemingly inedible, knots. His job was spared when the master baker, attempting admonishment, took an angry bite out of one–and loved it.
  • Until the 1930s, pretzels were handmade, and the average worker could twist 40 a minute. In 1935, the Reading Pretzel Machinery Company introduced the first automated pretzel machine, which enabled large bakeries to make 245 pretzels per minute, or five tons in a day.
  • President George W. Bush was munching on a pretzel in the White House when he choked and lost consciousness while watching the 2002 Baltimore-Miami NFL playoff.
  • The first pretzel to journey to America is thought to have come over on the Mayflower.
  • While the pretzel shape is symbolic in origin, it is also practical. Bakers could hang them by their loops on strings and sticks, making it convenient to display.
  • Pretzels have been a part of Easter traditions and were even hidden in the same way as Easter eggs.
  • Pretzels are often accompanied by toppings and can also be stuffed. Popular flavors include melted cheese, mustard, caramel or icing.
  • Unsalted pretzels have earned the nickname of “baldies.”


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