Federal Pretzel Baking Company

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Federal Pretzel Baking Company of South Philadelphia was the first large scale manufacturing soft pretzel factory in Philadelphia and the United States of America.[citation needed]

Federal Pretzel Baking Company
Family Owned 1922-2000
Industry Commercial Bakery
Founded 1922
Key people
Nacchio Family
Products Pretzels
Revenue N/A USD (2010)
Number of employees
30+ (2000)
Website Federal Pretzel Baking Company
USA Philadelphia PA Style Soft Pretzel


Although the Soft Pretzel had a long European and western Pennsylvania history the Nacchio family developed from a small bakery to a large scale manufacturing bakery business for soft pretzels. Federal kept their recipe secret.[1] Federal led the way with utilizing organized vendors with push carts on numerous street corners throughout the city and further engaged amateur youngsters who wanted to earn extra cash as street vendors carrying baskets of pretzels for sale walking up and down city streets. An ongoing relationship with public and Catholic schools led to sales for daily student snacks. The Federal Baking pretzel style became recognized by the general public as what became known as the iconic Philadelphia Soft Pretzel for 20th century Philadelphia.[citation needed]

Maria and Giuseppe Nacchio owned a small Italian American vitalian artisan bread bakery where Maria Nacchio would make bakery styled soft pretzels for added variety.[2] The bakery was located in the heart of an Italian American neighborhood enclave in South Philadelphia. During the 1920s her son Edmund saw a business opportunity in the popularity of the soft pretzel and the family recipe. He started a factory to bake them in larger quantities combining workers manual skills who would hand twist the pretzels and added a conveyor system of equipment imported from Germany that moved them to a soaking solution and then through baking ovens. The structure for mass production operations thereby became established at the Federal Pretzel Baking Company.
The Federal government Department of Agriculture consulted the American Institute of Baking and with advanced bakers of America like the Nacchio family to address the shortage of wheat flour during the World War they innovated alternative ingredients and baking techniques using corn flour as a percentage subsititute composing a mix of flour(s) for breads and other baked goods like pretzels.
The company was forwarded by the four brothers following the death of Edmund in 1947, and continued by Joseph, Carmine, and Anthony.
The record for the largest pretzel ever baked was baked by Joseph Nacchio of Federal Baking, Philadelphia, PA. : It was 40 lbs,pounds 5-feet across. This record was repeated with the largest pretzel appearing in a Hollywood movie at 20 lb., 4’ pretzel shown in the 1963 film production of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”.
First mass machine produced soft pretzel extruded at 7 per second with 60,000 baked daily by Federal Baking Company. The original 1922 recipe continued to be used but stopped producing hand-twisted pretzel with the signature overlapping knot.[3]
Second generation daughters Anna Nacchio and Norma Nacchio-Conley (with her son Thomas) opened "PretzCo" a pretzel baking business independent of Federal Baking several city blocks nearby and included a backroom exhibit to document the family story as presented by the daughters' of the founders. Also, they introduced their own modernized recipe that was less crusty and softer.[1]
The Pretzel Museum[4] opened by members of the Nacchio family {a partner Norma Conley[5]} to highlight the area’s preference for Federal Baking's more unique shaped pretzels being baked soft and unlike the dominant more circular hard pretzels produced in western Pennsylvania. Three locations for the museum was first at Washington and Delaware Avenue, then 7th and Markets streets next to Ben Franklin's historic house, and finally a full design located just north of the historic district of center city Philadelphia. Champion hand pretzel twister Helen Hoff demonstrated producing 57 pretzels per minute at this first museum dedicated to the Philadelphia soft pretzel. The Museum was closed prior to 1995.
The family owned and operated company was continued by the various family members for four generations until it was sold to a comgolmerate business, J & J Snack Foods Corporation in the year 2000.

Philadelphia Soft Pretzel[edit]

A Soft Pretzel is doubled looped bread dough, baked with a soft inside and then topped with coarse salt. The pretzels are often slathered with yellow or brown mustard. Federal Baking estimated it at a quart for each 200 pretzels sold.[6] During the 1900s street vendors for 80 years sold them on street corners in wooden glass enclosed cases or employed young boys to make extra cash who walked through the streets carrying baskets loaded with soft hot pretzels yelling aloud the phrase "Fresh Pret-zels"[4] The soft pretzel became a recognized staple cuisine of Philadelphia and an established food institutionalized for snacking at schools, or as a snack at work and home, or item for party trays. Often the soft pretzel was considered by most to be a quick meal.

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