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Found: A 150-Plus-Year-Old Elevator!

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This “wooden elevator” was built and placed into service during the early 1860s.

This “elevator” was built and placed into service during the early 1860s and remained continuously so through the early 1950s. Although such rigs later came to be known as lifts and dumbwaiters, in the parlance of the day, a “wooden elevator” it was. And what did it elevate?

Pretzels!

As a child, Julius Sturgis apprenticed at a bakery that made what we today call “soft pretzels.” It was his job to clean the ovens at day’s end, and, occasionally, some pretzels had been left to bake too long, which rendered them hard and crispy. Initially, these were fed to animals, but, one day, Sturgis tasted one, liked the flavor and texture, and brought to his employer the idea of offering hard pretzels as a product.

The bakery did not think their customers would buy them. So, in 1861, Sturgis founded his own bakery down the street, in a house built in 1784 — one of the original structures in colonial Lititz, Pennsylvania — to produce the hard pretzels he had discovered. At the ground level were four brick ovens where the dough — pre-twisted by the family’s youngsters into the now-classic pretzel configuration — was baked for a time. The shape is said to date back 1,400 years to when Italian monks formed scraps of dough to simulate children with arms folded in prayer.

Sturgis figured that if the dough were to be rolled thinner and smaller, these would bake faster, pack easier and remain fresh longer, so, to create the new product on a commercial scale, he took advantage of the fact that heat rises and added a second floor above the ovens, along with the wooden elevator. A peal was used to remove the pretzels from the ovens and place them into wire-mesh trays, which were loaded onto the elevator. Using ropes, three workers hoisted the elevator containing the trays upstairs, where the heat rising from the ovens below raised the area’s ambient temperature to 150-250°. In this environment, the pretzels were baked a second time and hardened, which could take from 2 hr. to two days, depending on the weather.

Thus was born the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, which, following several moves and ownership changes within the family, remains in business as a commercial “hard pretzel” facility with a presence at 219 East Main Street in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The original, one-and-a-half-century-old wooden elevator is on display at this location for visitors to view.

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Elevator World | November 2018 Cover