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Celebrating 120 Years Of Pa. Bologna-Making

Mon, 06/20/2011 - 4:37am
Brad Rhen, Associated Press

WEAVERTOWN, Pa. (AP) — For nearly 120 years, Lebanon bologna has been made at a small plant in a tiny village just north of Lebanon.

Located along Weavertown Road in North Lebanon Township, the plant was originally built in 1893 by Daniel Weaver, who began making Weaver's Lebanon Bologna in 1885. Through the years, the plant has been expanded several times, and new, modern equipment has been added.

Today, the plant also makes the Kutztown brand of bologna — Kutztown's plant in Jackson Township was destroyed by fire in 2000 — and both brands are owned by Godshall's Premium Meats of Telford, Montgomery County.

But while the equipment and the ownership may have changed many times in the last 118 years, the bologna recipes are the same as they were when both Weaver's and Kutztown were founded, said Jerry Landuyt, director of marketing at the Weavertown facility.

"They're both the original recipes," said Landuyt, who owned the Kutztown Bologna Co. before its disastrous fire in 2000.

Lebanon bologna, for those unfamiliar, is a type of sausage made of beef and spices that gets its unique flavor from smoking. It is believed to have been invented by Pennsylvania German settlers in the 1700s.

It began being commercially produced in the late 1800s, and it has been a staple in many homes in the Lebanon Valley ever since.

Weaver's bills itself as the oldest commercial manufacturer of Lebanon bologna. However, Landuyt said, the process by which the bologna is made has changed dramatically through the years.

"Bologna is still wood-smoked," he said. "That really hasn't changed. But as far as making it, packaging it, how fast we can do it, we can certainly make more in one day than they used to make in probably two weeks.

"We used to have one stuffer do all the work, and now we have like four of them running all the time," he added.

When Daniel Weaver first opened the plant in 1893, there were about 15 employees. Today, there are about 70 full-timers.

In addition to bologna, the plant also makes several other products, including beef sticks, bacon, ham, turkey jerky and pepperoni sticks.

"Beef sticks have become a big thing since about the early '80s," Landuyt said. "They got started in the beef stick business, and that has grown very big through years, and it continues to grow."

While many of Weaver's products are sold nationwide, Landuyt said, most bologna is sold within 200 miles of Lebanon. The Weaver brand is sold more in the Philadelphia area, while the Kutztown brand is more popular in central Pennsylvania.

Landuyt said he might have had something to do with Kutztown's popularity in the Lebanon Valley than Weaver's when the two brands were competitors.

"When I had Kutztown, of course, we got all the business we could," he said.

Business is still good, Landuyt said, noting that the plant was mostly unaffected by the recent economic downturn.

"It would be fair to say that everything was affected by it; however, it would also be fair to say that we've been fortunate," he said. "We are on the good side of it. Our business has gone up dramatically, 20-plus percent from last year to this year."

Landuyt theorized that one of the main reasons business is up despite the economic downturn is because of the high quality of the products.

"The Godshall family is committed to making a very high-quality product, and if you buy something and you like, you're probably going to buy it again," he said.

Although Weaver products may not be seen in central Pennsylvania stores as much as other brands, the company is alive and well nearly 120 years after it started making bologna in Weavertown, Landuyt said.

And with plans in the works to expand the Weavertown plant in 2012 or 2013, he said he doubts either Weaver or Kutztown will ever disappear from stores.

"We're just a quiet little company tucked off to this corner," he said. "We do talk about ourself, but we don't really like to brag and just keep working at it."

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