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Pottery Industry


The pottery industry, which produces dinnerware, food storage and food preparation containers, and other ceramic products, was a major industry in West Virginia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It remains important today, particularly in the Northern Panhandle where Homer Laughlin China Company is a very large dinnerware producer. Artisan potters practice their craft throughout the state, producing fine ware in limited quanities for the arts and crafts trade.

Lead-glazed red pottery was known everywhere in early America, which was rich in iron-red clay. The ware was fragile and did not ship well. Thus a pottery was necessary in every locale, producing utilitarian lead-glazed red earthenware from the same native clay as bricks.

Six redware potteries are known to have existed in the late 18th and the 19th centuries in present West Virginia. Samuel Butters worked in Clarksburg from before 1809 until after 1820. R. Brown was in Wellsburg about 1841. Elisha and William Day potted in Wheeling from 1825 to 1899. The Foulke Pottery operated in Morgantown from 1784 to 1800, and John W. Thompson was there before 1854. Stephen Shepherd worked in Charleston before 1818 until after 1838.

There was some stoneware clay here, and more was imported where needed. Stoneware reached a stone-like hardness through high-temperature firing. Late 19th-century potters knew how to make saltglazed stoneware decorated in cobalt blue. Thirty-four stoneware potters made crocks, jars, jugs, water coolers, and wax-top canning jars. They worked in the Monongahela Valley at Bridgeport, Clarksburg, Morgantown, Pruntytown, Shinnston, and other places. In the Ohio Valley they potted at Wellsburg, Wheeling, Parkersburg, and elsewhere. A. P. Donaghho was a 19th-century Parkersburg potter whose stoneware is avidly collected today. In Monroe County stoneware was made at Lindside and in Mercer County at East River.

During the early 19th century American potters tried to improve their wares to compete with cheap imported English Staffordshire earthenwares. They made yellow ware and covered it with a mottled brown glaze, known as Rockingham or, mistakenly, Bennington ware. Between 1848 and 1857, the Larkin brothers’ Virginia Pottery in Newell, Hancock County, made the first molded ware in present West Virginia using this glaze. Newell’s location on the Ohio River permitted local potters to learn about advances made in the pottery center in neighboring East Liverpool, Ohio.

Porcelain was the most sophisticated ceramic ware. The Ohio Valley China Company in Wheeling made porcelain between 1890 and 1895, and Wheeling Pottery Company made it between 1879 and 1900.

By the turn of the 20th century, American potteries perfected good white earthenware, similar to the dinnerware most of us use today. In the Northern Panhandle, Homer Laughlin made a variety of wares from 1873 to the present, and other industrial potteries were active until the early 1980s. Trenle Blake China Company made dinnerware in Ravenswood in the 1920s. H. R. Wyllie China made dinnerware in Huntington in the 1920s. Carr China made hotel ware between 1916 and 1953 in Grafton. D. E. McNicol China made hotel ware in Clarksburg between 1914 and 1954. The Paden City Pottery Company made dinnerware between 1911 and 1957, selling the bulk of their production to restaurants, state parks, and hotels.

Before the advent of indoor plumbing, sanitary ware was also made in West Virginia, including pitchers, basins, chamber pots, slop jars, toothbrush holders, soap dishes, and shaving mugs. Later the production turned to sinks and flush toilets. La Belle Pottery and Riverside Potteries Company made this ware in Wheeling in the late 19th century, succeeded in 1903 by Wheeling Potteries Company. After 1905, Homewood Pottery in Mannington, followed by Bowers Pottery between 1923 and 1941, and then Kimm Products after 1950, made the heavy ware. Other sanitary potteries included Eljer Company in Cameron about 1923, Broadway Pottery Company between 1897 and 1940, Keyser Pottery Company after 1905, and Wheeling Sanitary Manufacturing Company, about 1923.

Wire porcelain insulators were made by many potteries, including John Boch between 1907 and 1937, and Boch-Metsch Porcelain Company between 1919 and 1922, both of Newell. Davidson Porcelain Company worked between 1921 and 1936, as did Davidson-Stevenson Porcelain Company between 1913 and 1921 in Chester. General Porcelain worked in Parkersburg about 1923.

Written by James R. Mitchell


  1. Barber, Edwin Atlee. Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1901.

  2. Ramsay, John. American Potters and Pottery. Ann Arbor: Ars Ceramica, 1976.

  3. Thorn, C. Jordan. Handbook of Old Pottery and Porcelain Marks. New York: Tudor Pub., 1947.