15 Manufacturing Capitals You Might Not Know

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joevare, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

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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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March 15, 2016 - 4:15am
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