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Pottery in Wheeling in 1886

- from The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, September 14, 1886



The Ancient art Practiced Here in Great Perfection — A Large Product of Excellent Ware  Decorations to Arouse a South Kensington Man

Probably no manufacturing industry has taken a firmer hold in Wheeling than that of pottery; certainly none shows more forcibly what can be done on this favored spot by experience, business sagacity and sufficient capital. Confronting, as the whole American pottery trade did, the sharp competition of foreign wares produced by under-paid labor, paying the American workman more than twice the wages received by his foreign competitor, American potteries have been able to live and to grow by adding to the protection of the tariff the further protection of the closest attention to methods of production, reducing to a minimum the inevitable waste of the delicate processes, tempting the market with novelty of design, attractive finish and general excellence of product.

The fundamental processes of the potter's art have not changed greatly since "Jokim and the men of Chozeba, and Joash, and Saraph, who had dominion in Moab were the potters and dwelt with the King for his work." Modern invention has not displaced the early potter's wheel, though in some of the preparatory stages machinery has been devised to expedite the process and improve the product. For these reasons American enterprise embarked in earthenware manufacture has not been aided to the same extent that most other industries have by the introduction of labor-saving machinery. The war brought the protection of the tariff of 1861 and a high premium on gold, and the abundance of paper money made a good market for everything. Under these stimulating conditions the potter's industry grew to handsome proportions, reported at an annual product of about $600,000,000 in value. Notwithstanding this creditable exhibit of the growth of an important American industry, this country still imports earthenware than it makes, though the greater part of the foreign ware has no superiority in quality and is rather behind in design and finish. The excellence of American earthenware is nowhere more forcibly shown than is the Wheeling Pottery.


On the 23d day of October, 1879, the Wheeling Pottery Company was incorporated under the laws of West Virginia, with an authorized capital of $1,000,000 and $125,000 paid up capital. At that time George K. Wheat was elected President, Charles W. Franzheim, Vice-President, W.A. Isett, Secretary, and E.M. Pearson, General Manager. No changes have ever occurred in the list of officers, as the annual earnings of the company were such as to prompt the stockholders to recognize the fact that by their discretion at the start they secured material that could not be improved upon, and no doubt the success of the pottery is due to the wisdom displayed by its present management.

The company brought the property of the Wheat tannery, occupying the block bounded by Thirty-first and Thirty-second streets on the North and South, and Eoff and Chapline streets on the East and West. On this it erected a large four-story brick building, with the necessary outbuildings for kilns and fuel houses, The building is admirably arranged. Beginning with the clay-bins and mixing rooms on the ground floor, the clay is carried through the process of mixing until it comes out in a solidified form, and is carried by elevators to the room above where the molding is done; thence to enclosed bins or racks for drying. On the first floor a large fan is so arranged that a current of hot air is produced by the condensed steam, forced up through the building by a system of pipes and distributed in the bins where the ware is placed for drying, preparatory to being placed in saggers to go through the burning process in the kilns.


As indicative of the growth of the pottery it need only be said this concern started with five kilns, and now seven are taxed to their utmost capacity to meet the demands made upon the company. The one kiln that answered for the decorative department has been increased to four, and with a continuance of the increased demand for decorative ware additional improvements in this department will have to be made.

Perhaps there is no other pottery in the world that puts so many designs upon the market as the Wheeling pottery. This may possibly be attributed to the location among the largest and most progressive glass houses in the country, whose products are so nearly allied, and the sharp competition in the manufacture of glass. Whether or not such is the case, it is nevertheless a fact that the Wheeling pottery leads the world in unique designs in every variety of ware in its line.

Two hundred and fifty people are employed in turning out a capacity of $200,000 per annum, and in answer to the question how that number of employes could turn out that amount of work, the manager, Mr. E.M. Pearson, said: "Because it is the most complete pottery in the world." There is certainly a great deal covered in Mr. Pearson's answer, but to go through the immense building, and observe closely, it would readily be seen that to further economise would be next to impossible.

From one machine to another, and from one workman to another, the ware is carried in its varied shapes without the loss of one step from the clay bins, till it reaches the packing room. Two large stem elevators, on in each end of the building, appear to go with the precision of clockwork, so thorough is the system.

The clay is shipped from New Castle county, Del.: Woodbridge and Amboy, New Jersey, and also from England; the feldspar from Maine and Connecticut, and flints or quartz from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The principal markets for the products are in the North, West and South. The company enjoys unusual advantages for shipping. In addition to the three railroads that enter upon the block, it is located within a few minutes haul to the lower wharves. The railroad switches are so arranged that the packed ware is rolled from the packing room into the cars, or laid in straw in the car without packages, saving a considerable item of cost.


In speaking of natural gas Mr. Pearson said there was no question about it being far superior to coal. Already, he said, they had an advantage over Trenton (N.J.) potteries of $10,000 per annum, and with the introduction of natural gas a further saving of at least twenty-five percent can be added. In addition to the saving in fuel the kilns will require less repairing, and much labor will necessarily have to be dispensed with. Further than this, what has always been looked upon as an almost unavoidable loss will be entirely obviated by the use of gas. When the ware is placed into the saggers and set in the kilns there is always more or less loss by the smoke and sulphur getting to the ware. With gas this will not be the case.

In answer to the question as to whether gas would produce a better ware, Mr. Pearson replied that there was no doubt about it. The ware would be white and purer tint. The temperature could be regulated with precision by the use of gas, which would be impossible to attain with coal.

In speaking of the advantages of Wheeling over the East in the pottery business Mr. Pearson said Wheeling always had decided advantages. The coal, if no other, was sufficient to admit of successful competition. Wheeling's advantages for shipping and her nearness to the rapidly growing markets in the West and Southwest were matters of no little importance. There is no doubt", said Mr. Pearson, about the future of Wheeling. A season of unusual prosperity has certainly set in, and as the clouds of smoke from our factories are cleared away by the introduction of gas, enterprising business men can see and select good sites, and the noise of machinery will be heart throughout our vicinity without the usual clouds of smoke going toward heaven to indicate our increased prosperity."

The standard white and decorated ware - chamber sets and table ware in great variety of form and embellishment - is well known in all the markets. Recently there has been added an attractive line of porcelain china, a class of goods made by the best potters of the old world, but hitherto attempted but by two concerns in this country. This ware sells as fast as it can be drawn from the kilns and packed.

The success of this industry, new to Wheeling, is another evidence of what can be done here in a new branch of manufacture by sufficient capital, practical knowledge coupled with long experience and energetic business management. Manager Pearson is a skilled Staffordshire potter, who built an extensive pottery at East Liverpool before accepting the invitation to join the Wheeling Pottery Company and build its works. Messrs. Wheat and Isett have long been identified with Wheeling's manufacturing, commercial and banking interests. Mr. Franzheim is one of the most competent and pushing of the young business men of Wheeling who are preparing to take the places of the older heads. This fortunate combination has made the Wheeling Pottery one of the most successful of industrial enterprises

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