While there is some evidence of the existence of some minor pottery works in the East Liverpool area prior to 1840 there is no doubt that James Bennett was truly the beginning of what would turn East Liverpool, Ohio into "The Pottery Capital of the World".
Between 1840 and 1940 there were so many potteries of all shapes and sizes in and around East Liverpool that it is impossible today to pinpoint the location of but a fraction of the number. Names and locations changed with such frequency that one cannot be completely sure that similar names are not just variations of the same name. Thus, in any list of potteries there must be some inaccuracy. However, even a partial list of potteries for this area shows clearly why East Liverpool earned its nickname.
Today, although there are only a few potteries in and around East Liverpool they are well established and World renowned for their wares and clearly live up to the heritage left behind by the pioneering potters who flocked here from the poverty stricken "Midlands" of England to use their skills to establish themselves in a new land with the hope of new prosperity, wealth and independence.
James Bennett, from Derbyshire, England, a worker in a pottery making yellow ware, was journeying from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. While on this journey he stopped in East Liverpool and found that it had a wealth of clay suitable to the making of yellow ware and decided to settle in the area. With the help of four men, Anthony Kearns, Benjamin Harker, George Thomas and George Hollingsworth he built a small pottery (20ft x 40ft) with one kiln by the river at what is now the bottom of Jefferson and 2nd Streets. They produced their ware and traded it up and down the Ohio. That first production netted the men around $250.
Soon Benjamin Harker decided to go into business for himself and ran his own pottery from an old log cabin. James Taylor and Henry Speiler, who worked at the Harker Pottery would leave that employ and be the first to establish a pottery in Trenton, NJ.
A two story building, originally built to be a hotel, was instead converted to a pottery by Salt, Mears, Ogden and Hancock. The pottery was always known as "the Mansion House". Indeed many of the potteries were truly "home potteries". Converting home, property and all to the industry as it boomed and brought prosperity to the town and the people.
In 1841 Bennett went back to England to get his three brothers. On their return to East Liverpool they worked at the pottery until 1845 when they closed the business and moved to Birmingham, PA (now part of Pittsburgh) where they built another pottery and would eventually become wealthy men. In 1853 Isaac Knowles purchased the pottery and dismantled it, moving it to "Old End" at the Knowles, Taylor, Knowles plant.
A letter sent to England from a potter in 1843 stated that although the pottery industry had just made a start it was possible to make ware in East Liverpool as good as made in England and encourages all who can to come and join the growing industry.
Most workers were paid in produce or whatever the owners were able to trade their wares for, whether eggs or leather or fabric. This was still better than they had fared in England. In 1853 when John Goodwin paid his workers with $5 gold pieces many were unsure whether to accept it as payment or not. However, the economic base for the Western United States at this time was changing swiftly from a barter system to a cash based system. Better transportation by road, river, canal and eventually rail was opening up the industry to cheaper and easier access to markets on the East Coast, The Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast and eventually the ever expanding West. For the first time workers had their own money to "buy" products for themselves. This in itself stimulated economic growth.
There was however, one major obstacle to the transportation of pottery-- the packaging. With roads rough or virtually nonexistent and river transportation not much smoother breakage during shipping was high. The crates in which the ware was shipped were expensive and the custom was to return them after unpacking. Samuel Orr, a crate repairman for John Goodwin, suggested that he could make a large barrel in which ware could be safely shipped. These barrels, made at a fraction of the cost of the crates, were so successful that they became an industry in themselves and drove the crates out of the pottery business. With the production of these large barrels the ware was able to be shipped safely by road, river, canal or rail.
The industry grew so fast that potteries that had started with one kiln fast became bigger and bigger sometimes as large as 32 kilns, covering over ten acres of land. The industry grew along the banks of the Ohio River, covering not just the banks in East Liverpool but down to Wellsville. N.V. Walker built a plant in 1842 between the two communities where there was an abundant supply of coal and clay to produce the ware and run the kilns. As the industry boomed, time would indeed show that East Liverpool would become so overcrowded with potteries and homes that the larger potteries wishing to expand were forced to build across the Ohio River in Chester and Newell, WV. Most of the larger potteries moved over time across the river into Chester and Newell, West Virginia. By the 1970's all but one of the larger potteries, Hall China, were in West Virginia. Today most of the land once occupied in East Liverpool by potteries has been taken by the Ohio River as it makes a sweeping bend on its way to the Mississippi. What was 1st St. and a good portion of 2nd St. no longer exist except in the history books or on an old map.
In 1870 Isaac Knowles invented the "pull down" or "jigger" revolutionizing potting which until this time had been done entirely by hand. Knowles, Taylor & Knowles were the first to introduce the production of stone china. Times for the pottery industry were not to become truly prosperous until Americans realized that the home made ware was just as good as the English ware they were used to buying. Many of the potters in East Liverpool invented time saving machinery to make production of ware more uniform and of a better quality. C.C. Thompson once stated that there would come a time when a great part of the work done in potteries by hand would be performed automatically. At this time a single tea cup cost 3c, took four weeks to make and was handled by 20 people.
By 1906 the potteries extended for over 3 miles along the Ohio River and the North American Manufacturing Company was building a new state-of-the art plant in Newell, WV with 30 kilns. This new plant was on the site of the old Larkins Pottery. It was designed to have a continuous decorating kiln, buildings five stories high and 600 feet long. In 1907 the Homer Laughlin China Co. moved into the new plant. It was the largest pottery in the World. The Wells-Clarke China Co. took over the former Homer Laughlin plant in East Liverpool. Newell also had the Kenilworth Tile Co., the first tile manufacturer in the area, illustrating that the industry was diversifying into its various related industries.
Until 1873 the predominant ware produced was yellow ware. At this time K,T,K, in operation since 1852, changed their production to white granite. In 1872 Homer Laughlin and his brother Shakespeare came to East Liverpool from New York City and built the first pottery to exclusively produce white ware. The production of white ware was an instant success. Born in 1843 in "Little Beaver", Ohio and educated at the Neville Institute, a building that still stands in East Liverpool at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Elizabeth St. He had built a pottery in New York City after the Civil War. In 1877 Homer purchased his brothers portion of the business. In 1876 they were awarded a medal for the best white ware at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and in 1879 they were awarded a gold medal at the exposition in Cincinnati.
A listing of potteries in the East Liverpool area clearly shows how the City gained the nickname, "Pottery Capital of the World". There were hundreds of potteries, from large companies (some of which are still in production today) to small home businesses (that may have only survived a short time). At one time you could not look anywhere in East Liverpool without seeing the bottle kilns and the smoke that accompanied them.
Do you have questions about a specific piece of pottery? The Museum of Ceramics may be able to help. Contact information for the museum is at www.themuseumofceramics.com/potteryquestions.