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Steubenville Pottery: 1879-1959
© 2004 Michael E. Pratt
In the structure of American business, the industrial designer’s main function is his ability to sell the consumer on the manufacturer and what the manufacturer can produce. Therefore, he must understand and foresee the next fashion flurry yet always plan in terms of the general picture of changing economic and social conditions. –Russel Wright, 1955
The founding of the Steubenville Pottery of Steubenville, Ohio was the brainchild of a well-known local decorator Thomas Haden and an English manufacturer of majolica, A. B. Beck. Haden and Beck put up $3000 to start the venture with the goal of producing white graniteware and majolica. The founding of the Steubenville Pottery, Steubenville, Ohio began with a meeting in R. Sherman, Esq.’s office on November 13, 1879 with A. B. Beck and Thomas Haden. This meeting would serve as the first entry in a ledger recording the early business of the Steubenville Pottery. W. B. Donaldson and I. B. Salmon were chosen to raise $25,000 to fund the company. Two days later, a meeting was recorded that Isaiah B. Salmon, W. B. Donaldson, James Marion, I. Dunbar and William R. Elliot—all of Steubenville, Ohio, associated themselves together “for the purpose of forming and organizing a manufacturing company under the laws of the state of Ohio to engage in the business of manufacturing earthenware.”
The company would be known as the Steubenville Pottery Company. The original stock was divided into 50 shares of $500 each. The money was raised in less than one month. It was reported that “there was no lack of means behind the enterprise.” Of the 24 stockholders, the major original shareholders included: W. B. Donaldsen, 8 shares; Thomas Haden, 4 shares; R. Sherrard, Jr. 4 shares; James Marion 3 shares; William Stanton, 3 shares; A. B. Beck, 2 shares; I. B. Salmon, 2 shares; William R. Elliot, 2 shares; I. Dunbar, 1 share; D. J. Sinclair, 1 share, and J. Hockens, 1 share. The company was originally organized with these officers: president, W. B. Donaldson; secretary, James Marion; general manager, H. L. Bloor; and decorator, Thomas Haden.
Construction during much of 1880 involved the building of a two story brick structure with dimensions of 240 x 150 feet. The following was a description of the ground floor of the pottery: The ground floor contains the following rooms: main office, handsomely finished in dark and white woods; glossed wareroom; packing-room; decorating room for burning; kiln room for biscuit and glossed ware; dipping-room, where the ware is dipped into the glaze; green room, where the ware is put when green or unbaked; jigger room, for making plates, cups and small ware; slip house, for mixing clay; material room; room for grinding glaze; three saggar makers’ rooms (saggars are flasks made of fire-clay into which the ware is put to be baked in the kiln); engine and boiler room; glossed and biscuit placing room; and turning room.
On the second floor are the heating rooms, the building being heated with warm air forced into every room by the blower; pressing room for hollow-ware; mold-makers room: biscuit wareroom; printer’s room for printing both on and under the glaze; burnishing room, decorating room, ground laying room, decorator’s office and show room, finished in plaster and white paint. It wasn’t until November 1880 that the kilns of the new Steubenville Pottery were fired up. First production would be February 18, 1881. There were three kilns that had a capacity to hold 5,400 saggars along with two decorating kilns.
About one week later, it was reported that the final costs of establishing the Steubenville Pottery was $50,000. A shipping clerk with the company in 1893, H. D. Wintringer (-1955) soon played a major role in the future of Steubenville Pottery. W. B. Donaldson was H. D. Wintringer’s great uncle. The company's ledger reveals that by 1893 Wintringer owned 2 shares of the company, allowing Donaldson to vote his shares by proxy. On April 28, 1899, W. B. Donaldson resigned as president and was succeeded by D. J. Sinclair, a well-known local financier. Alfred Day who had previously become secretary-treasurer also resigned and Harry Wintringer was elected to fill the vacated position. On April 26, 1901, H. D. Wintringer succeeded D. J. Sinclair as president of the company, through a stock transaction that gave him controlling interest in the company.
By 1909, Sinclair sold his interests in the firm to Harry Wintringer and the firm’s general manager, B. L. Joyce. Wintringer’s purchase made him the largest shareholder in the company. At this time, W. B. Donaldson remained president, R. Sherrard, Jr. had become vice-president, and Alfred Day, secretary and treasurer. Shown here is a Steubenville Pottery Co. advertisement from a 1913 issue of the Pottery, Glass, & Brass Salesman.
Ledger entries from 1922 record land that was being purchased, presumably for the purpose of building the new plant that would be built. This company book’s entries end in 1922, and subsequent company records have not been located. Remaining information has been acquired through trade journals, ceramic directories, and interviews. Plans for a new plant were delivered to Harry Wintringer, Sr. around February, 1925. The idea was to move the current plant from South Street in Steubenville, to “Pottery Addition”, on the outskirts of the town in Cables on a route that leads toward Toronto, Ohio. The plant would overlook the Ohio River.
The new main building would be a brick and steel structure, 150 feet by 530 feet. The office building with sample room was 150 feet by 140 feet. The new plant’s production effectively doubled product output, with the addition of seven kilns. By October 1925, the new plant, built at a cost over $75,000, was placed into operation and both plants were being operated simultaneously. Steubenville Pottery entered into a contract to construct 100 new homes for its employees, establishing a town near the facility.
The new plant (No. 2) produced the latest innovation, ivory bodied ware, while the old plant (No. 1) continued white body ware. Declaring that ivory was no longer considered a “fad,” the pottery extended production of ivory bodied dinnerware to the original plant by the end of 1926. In 1932, a contract was awarded for the construction of a $50,000 tunnel kiln for the production of bisque at the number two plant. The new tunnel kiln would replace several periodic kilns. H. D. Wintringer, Sr.’s involvement with the company continued well into the mid-century. Under his leadership, the Steubenville Pottery had, by 1934, 7 periodic kilns and one tunnel kiln dedicated to biscuit and one continuous kiln dedicated to decorating.
By 1947 the company had converted to 5 tunnel kilns—2 bisque, 2 glost, and 1 decorating and employed 260 people. An advanced modern design was introduced in 1935, known as the Normandie shape (see photo). Plates were half arcs, flat on one side and bowls were similarly shaped with narrowed rims. Cups were described as “true circles with the tops cut off and leaving a circular top. The handles are not cut out, rather are they arcs, all filled in.” The service was available as a short set for the domestic market. The Trend shape, hailed as “in tune with the streamline age,” was introduced at the Pittsburgh show in January 1936. The “simple but stunning” shape was said to come in many patterns. Very little is known about this mid-century modern precursor.
H. D. Wintringer’s son, Harry Wintringer, Jr. had become involved in the operation of Steubenville Pottery off and on over the years, both pre and post World War II and for a time had been a salesman. While he had been in Florida, he originated a concept to create a dinnerware line based on leaf shapes. On arrival home, he presented his ideas to pottery’s designer for execution. Glazes used would be the same glazes used in the American Modern line of dinnerware, although names would be Jungle Green, Dove Gray, Golden Fawn and Salmon Pink. Rust and Tropic were glazes added in 1951. The line would be named after H. D. Wintringer, Sr.’s mother’s maiden name, Wood. The Woodfield line of dinnerware was introduced in 1941. The Woodfield line lacks the simplicity characteristic of mid-century modern dinnerware, yet proved exceedingly popular to the mid-century household as evidenced by the frequency with which the collector still finds this line. Also introduced around this time was a popular traditional line, Monticello, manufactured for distributor, Herman C. Kupper. A group of dinnerware patterns designed by the industrial and glass designer, Scott Wilson, were introduced by Steubenville in 1942. Although this grouping of floral designs was described as “modern traditional”, trade ad depictions made these designs appear much more appealing to the traditionalist than the modernist.
This is also true of the Pendleton pattern created by designer Joseph Platt at this same time. Harry Wintringer, Sr., who had become chairman of the board of Steubenville Pottery in 1954, was sick for about a year before he died in April 20, 1955. Another son, R. L. Wintringer had been serving as president and Harry J. Wintringer, Jr. as vice-president. Harry J. Wintringer, Jr., at the board meeting later in 1955, was elected president and treasurer of the company. Vincent Broomhall, noted designer and pottery entrepreneur, was elected sales manager in that same year. Also at this time, Gordon Rees and Associates were appointed Canada’s eastern provinces representative for Steubenville Pottery. Harry Wintringer, Jr. remained president until December 1959. According to Lehner (Lehner's Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks), ware marked “Final Kiln” was made on 15 December 1959. Competition from foreign imports, which had been the demise for many pottery companies in 1958, were blamed for the demise of the Steubenville Pottery. It is said that Wintringer, Jr. was so concerned about his employees’ welfare, that he would be unable to sleep, staying up nights in an attempt to prevent the companies closure for the sake of his employees, many of whom had 2 or 3 generations of family members that had worked for the company. Unfortunately, his efforts would prove futile. Stockholders voted to sell the plant to Barium Chemicals, Inc. of Willoughby, Ohio. The official purchase was consummated in early 1960 in which the chemical firm acquired 165,000 square ft. of buildings situated on 37 acres along the Ohio River. The Steubenville molds and design materials were sold to the Canonsburg Potteries where Vincent Broomhall, the well-known ceramic designer, was made president and sales manager of the Steubenville division of the Canonsburg Pottery Company, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Harry Wintringer, Jr., only months later, succumbed unexpectedly while playing golf in August 1960. His death has been attributed to the grief he suffered empathetically for his unemployed workers.
John George succeeded Vince Broomhall as Steubenville division head in the early-mid 1960s. By the mid-1970’s, the Steubenville Pottery Company was no longer listed in the China, Glass, and Tableware’s Red Book directory, although the Canonsburg Pottery Company remained in the 1977-1978 directory. The bankrupt Canonsburg pottery ceased production of dinnerware early in 1977. Bisque, molds, and equipment were demolished together, as the buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair.
Latest Steubenville Research News (15 Oct. 2004): It was reported in May 1959 that Russel Wright, famed designer of Steubenville's American Modern dinnerware line, entered into talks with officials of the Steubenville Pottery to discuss the possibility of producing a new line of dinnerware that would follow the enormously successful American Modern service. Plans were made to debut the new line by January 1960. Unfortunately, the company closed in 1959 and Russel Wright's efforts on the new line remains a mystery.
A special thanks to Mrs. Harry Wintringer, Jr. and the Wintringer family members for some information provided in this article.