Actually, it was interesting to see how they started with a big pile of tobacco and made it into a huge, long, paper-covered rope that was then cut into cigarettes. The teachers got free lighters with the name of the cigarette brand on them. Probably, most of the kids there were more interested in the machinery than in the Civil War-era museum we saw. I certainly remember both places.
I thought about this trip when I was reading this account by science fiction writer Charlie Stross about how publishing works. It's part of a series he's doing n his blog, sparked by the Amazon/MacMillan kerfuffle, to explain publishing to the public and combat the notion that authors don't need publishers.
This particular post has a wonderful list of the 17 steps in the worklfow involved in making a manuscript into a book. It is almost like describing how the cigarette manufacturing machine works. A few things truck me about the list. The first is the ubiquitous nature of MS Word, which is now a standard for manuscript revisions because its Track Changes features allows editor to highlight suggested changes in a way that the author can easily see and implement or reject them. Secondly, the term "marketing" was explained in greater detail as it relates to books. To a lot of people, "marketing" mean advertising in magazines and such, but for books, a lot of marketing happens between the publisher and the bookstore and is invisible to the public. A third thing is, the description is entirely print centric. It's about to get more complicated with the addition of ebooks to the workflow.
Fortunately, books aren't carcinogens. This is one field trip that it's safe to take. If you write, I recommend reading this series, especially if you're considering self publishing— it's good to know what steps you would need to do yourself. And besides, reading a blog is much cheaper than a trip to New York.