Monday, February 1, 2010

Homer Laughlin China Company...oh, how I love your china!!

In 1871, brothers, Homer and Shakespear Laughlin, formed a partnership to sell pottery in East Liverpool, Ohio. The East Liverpool pottery industry, which had its beginnings in the 1840’s, was producing yellow ware from local clay rich in minerals. By 1870, the popularity of the yellow ware was starting to wane, as imports of a more sophisticated white ware was arriving from England.
The East Liverpool city council, realizing that change was needed, offered $5000 in start up money for someone who would build a pottery and produce white ware. The Laughlin brothers proposed to build a 2 kiln factory in 1873. They purchased their first piece of property on the Ohio River from Benjamin Harker (who’s own pottery was on the property next door) for only $300.
In just three years time, the Laughlin brothers had built a reputation for quality products and won an award for their white ware. In 1877, Shakespear Laughlin had had enough of the pottery business, so Homer took over the business and renamed it Homer Laughlin China Works.
In 1889, William Edwin Wells was hired to keep the books, but in a very short time, he was over-seeing the entire operation so that Homer was free to travel with his wife. On December 7, 1897, Homer retired and sold the business to William Wells and a financial partner, Louis Aaron.
By 1899 a second plant was built, and within 4 more years, a third plant was built. In 1903 a parcel of property on the opposite side of the Ohio River was purchased from the Newell family, in what would later be named Newell, West Virginia. The fourth plant was started between 1905 and 1906, and it was considered the largest pottery in the world. In 1907, they moved their headquarters to the new location.
In 1911, Louis Aaron was succeeded by his son, Marcus Aaron, and in 1914, the fifth plant was opened. In 1917, the average price for the pottery pieces was 72 cents per dozen-imagine how many pieces (16.7 million pieces) they had to sell that year as they surpassed the million dollar sales mark.
By the 1920’s continuous firing tunnels drastically changed the speed at which items were made. In 1923, they built their sixth plant, with tunnel kilns. The first line of pottery fired in the new tunnel kiln, processed in 1924. In 1927 the seventh plant, equal in size to the 6th plant, was opened. In that same year, Frederick Hurten Rhead (who was the creator of the Fiesta pottery line) was hired as design director. This was a position he would hold for 15 years until his death in 1942. The Fiesta pottery line was marketed on the phrase, “The dinnerware that turns your table into a celebration.”
The original colors were; red (sometimes referred to as “radio-active” red, because it was made using uranium oxide), medium green, cobalt blue, yellow, and ivory. Turquoise joined the line up in 1938, followed by gray, light green, forest green, chartreuse and Rose.
In January 1930, W. E. Wells retired and was replaced by his eldest son, Joseph M. Wells, Sr. Marcus Aaron (president of the company) retired in 1940 and was replaced by his son Marcus Lester Aaron, who held that position for 48 years.
During World War II, the company’s focus shifted to manufacturing china for the armed forces. After the war, business as usual resumed, and in 1948, they were at the peak of production, producing over 10 million dozen pieces with over 3,000 employees.
During the 1950’s there was an influx of imported dinnerware, at such low prices, many potteries were forced to go out of business. The Homer Laughlin China Company changed their focus from consumer dinnerware to commercial restaurant ware. In 1959, J.M. Wells retired and the reigns of the company were passed to Joe Wells , Jr.
During the 1960’s and 70’s, HLC became a leading force in the food service china industry. The production of the Fiesta line, stopped in 1973.
In the 1980’s the company decided to switch production to vitrified china, using lead free glazes, and re-introduced the Fiesta line with new colors, using old and new molds and designs. In 1986, Joe Wells, retired and was replaced by his son Joe Wells III. By the end of 1988, then company president, M.L. Aaron retired and was succeeded by his son, Marcus (Pete) Aaron II. At this time, the company was being run by the 4th generations of each family.It is still owned and operated by 4th and 5th generations of the families.
The Fiesta line was re-introduced in 1986, after HLC was contacted by Bloomingdales asking them to bring the vibrant dishes back. When Fiesta re-emerged, the first colors were; white, black, apricot, and cobalt blue, followed by rose, yellow, turquoise and periwinkle. As new colors arrived on the scene, some of the older colors were discontinued (creating a whole new niche for the pottery-the collectibles niche). More colors (seamist, lilac, persimmon, sapphire, chartreuse, pearl gray, juniper, cinnabar, sunflower, plum, shamrock, tangerine, scarlet, peacock, heather, evergreen, ivory, chocolate and lemongrass) were added and more were discontinued. Not only were new, lead free colors introduced, but the quality was dramatically improved as well. With the exception of heather, the last 12 colors are still in production today. When the new color comes out this spring, one color will be discontinued.
By 2000, the older, kilns in the last three plants were replaced with new, computerized, state of the art kilns. 10 years later, and the Fiesta line continues to flourish.
I recently saw on Facebook that the HLC Company is holding an essay contest! In 200 words or less, they are asking contestants to write about their experiences that brought you to your love of the pottery. I can’t believe how few words 200 words are!! The winners (25) will receive a five piece place setting of the new color, before it is even available for purchase. Hurry! The deadline to enter is March 20th and the winners will be announced on March 30th. I’m almost ready to submit my entry…I just need to add some photos of my collection to send along.

This is most of my collection, there are a few pieces not shown. How could you have a bad day when you open the cupboard and all of these cheery, bright dishes are there to greet you!?!


  1.! Why don't the shelves collapse?

  2. Hi Kim! I love your blog! I would like to "borrow" one of your images of your collections for a future blog post about "what people collect". It will be a while before I get it together, but I'll be sure to link to your blog and give credit for the image.

    Have a great week!

  3. Oh! my,what a wonderful coolection you have,I love it no doubt,very colorful,I like to have one of your collection!!I know that's priceless,Thanks for the blog,I enjoyed watching the picz,...

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  4. Just so you know, Medium Green wasn't one of the original colors... It was the last of the 1950's colors. Light Green is the original. I have more than 600 pieces of fiesta, about 1/3 of which is vintage. Hope I'm one of the winners of the contest... Love the new color! Good Luck!

  5. Laughlin had had enough of the pottery business, so Homer took over the business and renamed it Homer Laughlin China Works.

    Homer Laughlin China

  6. Homer Laughlin marks all of their production with the mark “Genuine”. It should also be noted that some smaller, genuine Fiesta items may not have any markings whatsoever such as salt and pepper shakers. Be careful to look at the detailing and quality, and especially the spacing of the circles which on genuine Fiestaware should narrow progressively.
    Homer Laughlin China

  7. I loved the article about Fiestaware. I have a lot of the new Fiesta including lilac. If I removed it from my house it would rise about 2 inches. I have a friend that collects the old Fiesta and has every piece and wrote a book about it. Glenn Victorey. Thanks for writing it. Barbara