Homer Laughlin Replacement China Dinnerware

HISTORY OF THE HOMER LAUGHLIN POTTERY

(From The Collector's Encyclopedia of Homer Laughlin China by Joanne Jasper)

The Homer Laughlin China company was launched, not suprisingly, by a man named Homer Laughlin, who, together with his brother, Shakespeare, built a small pottery in East Liverpool, Ohio, in 1871. The choice of location was probably due to the proximity of clays, which produced a type of pottery known as "yellow ware", from the bright yellow color of the fired ware. Unfortunately, yellow ware was not a very suitable vehicle for the display of decorations and certainly was not to be associated with better-class dining.

In 1872, the city fathers of East Liverpool raised a $5,000 prize, to induce a potter to establish a plant for the making of white ware. The Laughlin brothers took advantage of the offer and built a two-kiln plant for making this type of pottery. From a trade publication of 1938, we learned that the populace of East Liverpool initially had cause to regret the funding of the Laughlin Brothers. When the first batch of new china was removed from the kilns, the handles dropped off all the cups. These problems were eventually corrected and the new operation became a success.

By the fall of 1874, the company was known as "The Ohio Valley Pottery" and employed over 100 workers. Two years later in 1876 they received the highest award at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia for their white ware. One would not like to imply that this achievement was simple. As will be explained later, the making of fine china is very much an art, and the Laughlin brothers did not master this instantly. However, by 1886, they had demonstrated the capability to make fine china, which displayed the attribute of translucence, an important characteristic of vitreous china.

Having acquired the capability to make true china, Homer Laughlin did not hesitate to exploit this fact. Previously, fine china had to be imported especially from England. Homer Laughlin symbolized his taking on of the English pottery industry by his early backstop: An eagle attacking a lion, which was lying helplessly on it's back, symbolizing the ascendancy of the American pottery industry over the English.

In 1897 Homer Laughlin, having twenty years previously bought out the interest of his brother Shakespeare, sold out completely to a group headed by Louis I. Aaron and his sons Marcus Aaron and Charles I. Aaron. Mr. Louis Aaron assumed responsibility for the presidency of the company and for it's financial affairs and Mr. M.E. Wells as General Manager, took over responsibility for the operation of the plant. Under this management the company prospered greatly and launched on a career of producing truly enormous quantities of china for America's tables. The Aaron and Wells families have continued in their respective roles through four generations, until the present day.

The next advances were to occur in the production and design of the china itself. In the area of china production Dr. Albert Bleininger, who was regarded by some as the leading ceramics engineer in the world, joined Homer Laughlin China in 1920. He came there from the U.S. Bureau of Standards in Pittsburgh. In 1934, he was joined by Harry Thiemecke, who retired from the company in 1972. Mr. Theimecke told me in a telephone interview that he was attracted to HLC by the opportunity to work with Dr. Bleininger. Together these men devised the formulas for clays and glazes and the manufacturing methods that produced the beautiful pieces seen in this book.

In 1927, Mr. Frederick Rhead came to Homer Laughlin China as the art director. Prior to his joining the company, the designs of different shapes appear to have been farmed out to local various free-lance designers. For the most part, the designs from the pre-Rhead period tend to imitate those of the European potteries. Rhead's arrival initiated an outpouring of new designs. Starting slowly at first with Newell, which was not a popular shape, he next created Liberty, which was actually derived from Newell. He then began to make his presence more strongly felt with Century (1931), making a sharp break with the past. Century is a rectilinear shape reminiscent of Art Deco, and its ivory-colored glaze is unmistakable.

While Rhead is perhaps best known for his introduction of solid-colored tableware (Fiesta, Harlequin, Riviera), his impact on white tableware produced by Homer Laughlin is equally important. Following Virginia Rose (1929), Nautilus (1935) and Brittany (1936), the Eggshell line of tableware was launched in 1937. Beginning with Eggshell Nautilus and Eggshell Georgian, it expanded to include Swing (1938) and Theme (designed to commemorate the World's Fair in 1939). The Eggshell shapes proved to be quite popular and were featured in great quantity in the Montgomery Ward catalogs of the late 1930s through the early 1950s. Sears also sold Eggshell, but seems not to have offered as wide variety as Wards. The combination of Rhead's designs and the technical genius of Bleininger and Thiemecke was unstoppable and Homer Laughlin China grew to become a vast china-manufacturing complex.

In 1942 Frederick Rhead died of cancer. In 1945, Don Schreckengost joined Homer Laughlin China as art director. His handiwork can be seen in the Jubilee, Debutante, Rhythm, and Cavalier shapes, which reflected a departure from the traditional lines to the more contemporary look.

These shapes (among others) were to be the backbone of Homer Laughlin China production into the post-war years, when Homer Laughlin China became the largest pottery in the world. Although Don Schreckengost left Homer Laughlin China in 1960, he is still quite active in the pottery business today, working as a free-lance designer and supplying designs to several other potteries.

The company achieved outstanding success at providing china for the American home market for three-quarters of a century. After World War II, china of increasingly lower prices began to be imported in quantity from other countries, notably Japan. Beginning in 1959, Homer Laughlin widely diversified into hotel and restaurant china, and in the 1970s. This product area surpassed that of china for home-use. Today, the Homer Laughlin China Company is very much alive and well, being the largest manufacturer of china in the country. In addition to copious output of institutional china, the factory today also again makes the highly prized Fiesta in its classic shapes but in the contemporary new colors.

My visits to the Homer Laughlin plant have left me with a deep sense of this rich history. Due to a combination of low land prices and the particular nature of potters, it is less costly to simply build a new factory than to upgrade an old one based on an obsolete manufacturing technology. As a result there are many areas of the plant which have been shut down for years, yet which are completely unchanged from the last day of operation. I saw a tunnel kiln in which there were still carts filled with incompletely-fired china. (I think it was Fiesta.) There are decorating rooms in which the decals were applied by scores of workers. Mr. Bob Jones, who presently works in the art department at Homer Laughlin China, began his career as a ware boy who moved the china to and from the decorators. He says he cans still hear the calls of "ware boy!" when walking through some of these empty rooms.

Below I have listed some of the significant events that took place at the Homer Laughlin China Company from its beginning to the present. The primary purpose of this list is to show the time periods during which the various china shapes were produced. Unfortunately, it is much easier to mark the date when a shape began than when it ended. For some of the earlier shapes, the dates are uncertain, and are based on when a shape was advertised for sale. In other words, I have seen evidence that the shape in question was available at the time I have shown, but he shape may have been produced prior to that time and I have just not come across any evidence of the fact.

1871

Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin started their first pottery (2 kilns) in East Liverpool, Ohio

1872

Laughlin Brothers received the $5000.00 prize that was raised by the townspeople of East Liverpool as a reward to the first potter to produce white ware pottery

1873

Construction of a plant on the west side of Harker Pottery. This was known as plant #1

1877

Homer Laughlin purchased Shakespeare's business interest

1884

CHINA: Victor

1896

CHINA: Golden Gate (Homer Laughlin Combinets), Shakespeare

1897

Homer Laughlin sold the factory and moved to Los Angeles. Louis I Aaron took over as president, with William E. Wells as general manager.

1899

Plant #2 was built at the East End section of East Liverpool. CHINA: American Beauty

1901

Plant #3 was built along side Plant #2.

CHINA: Colonial, Seneca, Niagara

1903

CHINA: King Charles

1907

Plant #4 began operations in Newell, West Virginia.

CHINA: Angelus, Empress

1911

Marcus Aaron took over as president succeeding his father, Louis I Aaron.

1912

CHINA: Hudson, Genesee

1914

Plant #5 was built just north of Plant #4.

CHINA: Majestic

1920

Dr. Albert Bleininger, a noted ceramic engineer, joined the company to begin an era of major changes in the art of china-making at HLC

CHINA: Republic, Kwaker

1921

Construction of a lavish showroom so that customers could now be invited to come to the Homer Laughlin plant to view wares for sale. This display room of dark wood paneled walls and ceiling was made by Homer Laughlin pottery artists and was called "The Bower of Delights." This room is still in use today.

1923

Plant #6 was built, which included the first tunnel kiln.

1926

CHINA: Yellowstone

1927

Frederick Hurten Rhead joined Homer Laughlin as head art designer. Between the two giants, Rhead and Bleininger, HLC would see a great outpouring of new designs and glazes.

1929

Plant #8 was built. This plant was subsequently devoted to the production of Virginia Rose and Marigold.

CHINA: Liberty

1931

W.E. Wells died and J.M. Wells became general manager.

1930-1933

CHINA: Wells, Century, Jade, Ravenna, Virginia Rose, Marigold, Nautilus (Regular) and Georgian/Craftsman

1934

Harry Theimecke joins HLC as a chemist

1935

CHINA: Fiesta, Coronet

1936

CHINA: Brittany, Harlequin

1937

CHINA: Eggshell Nautilus, Eggshell Georgian

1938

First automated forming equipment introduced.

CHINA: Swing, Carnival, Riviera, Tango

1939

CHINA: Theme, Kitchen Kraft, Serenade

1940

Marcus Lester Aaron became president.

CHINA: Picadilly

1942

Frederick Hurten Rhead died.

1945

Don Schreckengost joined HLC as art director.

1946

Dr. Bleininger died.

1948

Homer Laughlin's peak production year-over 10 million dozen. CHINA: Rhythm, Cavalier, Triumph, Kenilworth, Epicure

1959

Hotel and restaurant china introduced.

1960

J.M. Wells, Jr. became general manager.

1962

Vincent Broomhall joins HLC as art director.

1970

Hotel and institutional china production surpassed china sold to the public.

1972

Harry Theimecke retired. Dennis M. Newbury became art director, Jon D. Bentley became general superintendent.

1984

Jonathan O. Perry became art director.

1986

Fiesta reintroduced as a lead-free china product. J.M. Wells III became general manager.

1989

M. L. Aaron retires after 65 years of service. Marcus Aaron II became president.



 

The Collector's Encyclopedia of Homer Laughlin China

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