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15 Manufacturing Capitals You Might Not Know

joevare, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
joevare, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Plenty of places claim to be the capital of a particular product. Fun facts like these are usually mentioned casually, relegated to party banter and candy wrappers, but these capitals are often taken seriously by their residents, and it turns out, folks really do derive real pride from living in a town where a thing just happens to be produced—as though they were personally, intrinsically connected to umbrellas or false teeth.

With unofficial capitals like these, the criteria isn’t always consistent. Sometimes a town calls itself a “world capital” because it’s been proven as the greatest producer of that thing; other times, it's based on boasting. But whatever the back story, by and large, these monikers seem like they’re planning on sticking around. Here are some favorites.

1. MORTON, ILLINOIS // PUMPKINS

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If ever you buy a can of pumpkin, it’s almost certainly going to be made by Libby, and Libby’s canning plant is in Morton, Illinois, which styles itself the Pumpkin Capital of the World. Owned by Nestlé, the plant is surrounded by pumpkin fields in all directions and produces 82 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin supply. As such, Morton holds a pumpkin festival each year, replete with pneumatic pumpkin catapults.

2. LACROSSE, KANSAS // BARBED WIRE

Since the 1960s, LaCrosse, Kansas, has proclaimed itself the world’s barbed wire capital, beginning with a collection of 40 barbed wire fences at a small local museum. The Antique Barbed Wire Society was born soon after, and today, more than 2400 different kinds of “the devil’s rope” are on display in the surprisingly-large-for-what-it-is Kansas Barbed Wire Museum. LaCrosse is also the site of the annual Antique Barbed Wire Swap & Sell Festival, which began there in 1967.

3. SCHAAN, LIECHTENSTEIN // FALSE TEETH

Liechtenstein’s largest city, Schaan, may not be the tiny principality’s capital (that honor belongs to Vaduz), but it can still glory in its status as the world’s capital of false teeth. It’s all thanks to hometown denture company Ivoclar Vivadent, which manufactures 60 million teeth in 10,000 different shapes and sizes, accounting for 40 percent of the dentures sold in Europe and 20 percent sold worldwide. One reason for its recent success, the company claims, is its products’ popularity with Bollywood actors in India.

4. KUROBE, JAPAN // ZIPPERS

Kurobe, Japan, is often cited as the zipper capital of the world, with the industry being almost completely monopolized by the city's YKK Group. There are a few small-time zipper competitors in China, but YKK is hardcore about zipper quality—smelting its own brass, producing its own polyester, and even making its own shipping boxes—and the apparel industry overwhelmingly trusts YKK’s zippers over none other.

5. QIAOTOU, CHINA // BUTTONS

If you’re the old-fashioned type who prefers to fasten her clothes the pre-Victorian way, you can zip on over to the small town of Qiaotou, China, which turns out 60 percent of the world’s buttons. There, in the Button Capital of the World, you’ll find more than 200 button factories and 1300 button shops, offering 10,000 different kinds of buttons for sale. (Qiaotou is also a player in the zipper industry, although it can’t touch Kurobe’s zipper output.)

6. DALTON, GEORGIA // CARPET

You may not spend much time thinking about where your carpet was made, but it’s a source of serious pride for the citizens of Dalton, Georgia, where a whopping 85 percent of U.S. carpets (and probably yours) come from. The town became the world’s carpet capital thanks to Catherine Evans Whitener, a resident who originally made tufted bedspreads in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1917, she and family members founded Evans Manufacturing, which eventually used its tufting machinery first to make throw rugs and later to transition into the carpet industry.

7. EAST HAMPTON, CONNECTICUT // WITCH HAZEL

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Almost every drop of witch hazel in the United States is cut, processed, and bottled in East Hampton, Connecticut, or within a few miles of it, making the town the country’s witch hazel capital. Although witch hazel is found naturally in a few other places, eastern Connecticut is the place where the plant, also known as Hamemelis virginiana, grows most densely. East Hampton’s American Distilling, the world’s largest producer of the astringent, is the source for countless cosmetics, hair care, and pharmaceutical companies, including Estée Lauder, Neutrogena, and Revlon.

8. CREMONA, ITALY // VIOLINS

Cremona, Italy, has been the world capital of violin-making since the mid-16th century, starting with the luthiers of the city’s Amati family, who are purported to be the very inventors of the instrument, and later those of Andrea Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari, among others. Today, it’s the home of the yearly Stradivari Festival, which is hosted by the open-year-round Museo del Violino, also located in Cremona.

9. ANTWERP, BELGIUM AND KIMBERLEY, SOUTH AFRICA // DIAMONDS

If you want to talk diamonds, most people would call Antwerp, Belgium, the world capital without hesitation—and it’s true that 80% of the world’s diamonds are cut there, and that more than half of the diamonds sold worldwide will pass though the city’s 4-block diamond district at some point. But if we’re talking about origins, that distinction goes easily to Kimberley, South Africa, the seat of the De Beers diamond empire, which at one time ran five separate mines in the town, including the now-closed Big Hole. Both cities style themselves as “The Diamond Capital of the World.”

10. UNION CITY, NEW JERSEY // EMBROIDERY

When passing through Union City, New Jersey, keep an eye out for the huge sign hanging from an overpass on NJ-495 reading, “Welcome to North New Jersey: Embroidery Capital of the World Since 1872.” Once home to over 40 lace and garment factories, Union City doesn’t have too many today; the embroidery industry is now mechanized and mostly dominated by various Chinese factories. But the town holds on to its rep, not just through its highway sign: In 2014, Embroidery Plaza was dedicated at New York Avenue & 30th Street, to commemorate the town’s historic past.

11. TOLEDO, OHIO // GLASS

Although its industry has similarly diminished, Toledo, Ohio, is still proud to be the Glass Capital of the World. Even without the many glass factories it once boasted, the city maintains its title via its 7400-square-foot Glass Pavilion, part of the Toledo Museum of Art. It also used to celebrate an annual Glass Day, and the mayor still occasionally gives out giant glass keys to local leaders.

12. AKRON, OHIO // RUBBER

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Meanwhile, nearby Akron, Ohio, has long been known as the rubber capital of the world, especially in the form of tires. Goodyear Tire & Rubber got its start there, as did Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, along with two smaller competitors, BF Goodrich and General Tire and Rubber. There was a time when so many rubber factories operated in Akron that you could smell the rubber in the air permeating the city. There’s even a path paved with rubber in the Cascade Locks area. These days, the rubber plants themselves are mostly gone, but several tire companies still have their headquarters in Akron, including Goodyear, so a slight nickname update might be in order.

13. SONGXIA, CHINA // UMBRELLAS

Several cities have vied to be the umbrella capital of the world, including Taipei and Baltimore, but Songxia, China, is the current front-runner in the umbrella department, and for good reason. More than 1000 factories make bumbershoots in Songxia, turning out approximately half a billion umbrellas yearly, or 30% of China’s production. Located about two hours south of Shanghai, Songxia’s factories don’t just make rain umbrellas, though—the city maintains its title as world capital by also producing golf umbrellas, beach umbrellas, promotional umbrellas, kids’ umbrellas, wedding umbrellas, and more. You dream it; they’ll umbrella it.

14. BALTIMORE // CRAB CAKES

Pity poor Baltimore, which seems to be the capital of being the former capital of things. Not only has it been eclipsed by Songxia as the world’s umbrella capital, it’s also been forced to relinquish its claims to being the capital of both men’s straw hats, when hat-wearing was abandoned by Americans in general in the 1960s, and Ouija boards, when Parker Brothers bought the rights to the Baltimore invention in 1966 and moved the operations to Salem, Massachusetts. The city still reigns supreme as the crab cake capital of the world, though, which isn’t anything to sniff at.

15. CALIFORNIA // CAPITAL OF FOOD CAPITALS

If all of California were a city, it would be the capital of food capitals, with at least a dozen cities representing as the HQs of various produce. The city of Gilroy, thanks to powerhouse Christopher Ranch, is famous around the world for its garlic crop as well as its annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Meanwhile, the city of Chico is known for its almonds; the most asparagus in the country grows in Isleton; artichokes are found in Castroville; and nearby Watsonville produces the most strawberries. The list goes on: avocados in Fallbrook, blackberries in McCloud, broccoli in Greenfield, lettuce in Salinas, dates in Indio, and lima beans in Oxnard. 

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The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
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Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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