At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Rutland with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are going to be exploring crackers today. Crackers have been made in Vermont for a long time and I think most people know about the Westminster Cracker Company. We’re going to go inside and check it out,” explained Perkins.

“So if you have ever gone to a restaurant and got those little oyster crackers in the brown and white bags, that’s us. We’re pretty much everywhere. So most of the time when you go get soup and stuff like that, it’s our oyster crackers you’re putting into that soup,” Production Supervisor Forrest Spencer said.

“We start out with a sponge. That sponge sits in our proof room for roughly twelve hours as we let our yeast go to work on the different ingredients that put in there. From there, we add more flour, salt and sugar and we make it into a dough. From that dough, it sits another four hours before we run it on one of our two lines. The dough gets extruded out into a sheet, and then we have dyes that stamp out the right pattern that we want, whether we’re making saltine crackers or oyster crackers that then go into our ovens. They get baked up, they go through our dryer and dry out so that they’re nice, dry, crisp crackers and from there, directly to packaging,” detailed Spencer.

“So from the time we bake the crackers to packaging, it’s usually anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes and they’re in the package, in the case ready to go. Between both lines, we’re making about 67 pounds of crackers a minute and we’re running around the clock 24/7,” continued Spencer.

“How much flour does that use then in say, a day?” asked Perkins.

“We have three silos that each hold 150,000 pounds of flour and we can only make it a few days without having to refill those silos. We actually pressurize railcars with air. They’re sealed railcars. Each one comes in with 50,000 pounds of flour. And then we blow it out underneath the street through piping. It goes up to the top of the silo before it then gets sifted and goes into our use bin and it sits there, waits to be used,” answered Spencer.

“We started out in Westminster, Massachusetts. Then, the company was bought and moved to Rutland, Vermont.  And they started out almost in a garage, back on Randbury Road. From there, they moved to the Howe Center and that’s when they bought line one, which is our older line. From my understanding, they actually found the line right before it was to be thrown into the ocean to become an artificial reef because they couldn’t find anybody who really wanted to buy it. So the company bought that line and started producing crackers.”

“They used to only have one shift per day. They weren’t as automated. In fact, they pulled the scrap off by hand. They wanted to make sure everything was perfect with these crackers and we continue that today, testing our quality and everything like that,” said Spencer.

“I stole this off the line as we came through. You said it’s packaged now in these little plastic bags. How did these used to get packed?” asked Perkins.

“Crackers used to go through in these big wooden barrels, and that’s where the term ‘cracker barrel’ comes from. And it’s funny, we actually make the crackers for Cracker Barrel still today. We’ve been around for over one hundred years. It’s a very simple process, but we do it correctly. It’s a good product and you can out and find it just about anywhere, not only in Vermont, but all up and down the East Coast and across the nation,” concluded Spencer.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.