Stoneware is a type of pottery fired to a high temperature (about 1,200°C to 1,315°C). While it originated in the Rhineland area of Germany around the 1400s, it became the dominant house-ware of the United States circa 1780-1890.
Americans began producing SALT-GLAZED STONEWARE about 1720 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Yorktown, Virginia. There the Crolius and Remmey families (two of the most important families in the history of American pottery production) would, by the turn of the 19th century, set the standard for expertly crafted and aesthetically pleasing American Stoneware.
By the 1770s, the art of salt-glazed stoneware production had spread throughout the United States. American Stoneware pottery was usually covered in a salt-glaze and often decorated using cobalt oxide to produce bright blue decorations.
While other types of Stoneware were concurrently produced in America – such as ironstone, yellowware and various types of china – in common usage of the term, “American Stoneware” refers to this specific type of pottery.
Thomas Jefferson completed the LOUISIANA PURCHASE in 1804 and after the WAR OF 1812 the United States began a 50-year period of economic growth and expansion known as the Antebellum Period. Young Americans moved west in great numbers searching out new opportunities and claiming rich farmlands of the Midwest.
This great migration and a single event in the year of 1815 would become a major turning point for a small town founded on the banks of the Ohio River by George Rogers Clark in 1778; Louisville, Kentucky.
A flatboat trip down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to New Orleans took about eight weeks and was a one-way adventure. When the flatboats reached the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville, their goods and boats would be off-loaded and transported by land to the lower-end of the falls.
Robert Fulton built the New Orleans, which became the first steamboat to arrive in New Orleans in 1811, traveling downstream from Pittsburgh. Although it made the trip in record time, most believed its use was limited, as they did not believe a steamboat could make it back upriver against the current.
With the arrival of Fulton’s New Orleans, a new age of growth for Louisville and its distilling industry began. The steamboat allowed for the expanded distribution and in larger quantities of whiskey, a type of barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn, to new markets.
In 1815 the Enterprise, captained by Henry Miller Shreve, became the first steamboat to travel from New Orleans to Louisville, showing the commercial potential of the steamboat in up-river travel and shipping.
The same year the Enterprise made the city of Louisville the “Gateway to the West,” JACOB LEWIS established the Lewis Pottery Company.
Louisville’s population exploded over the next several years and Lewis was there to supply what was the main storage or the “Tupperware” of its day. Travelers heading west would stock up on supplies and the only storage containers that would protect their precious cargo of sugar, flour or whiskey would be made of Stoneware. Large 30 gallons crocks would be filled with grain and sealed with a wooden top and beeswax to keep the rats from damaging their goods. Lewis also produced every day necessities such as butter churns, bowls and plates that were less expensive than the pewter plates of the day.
By 1820, stoneware was being produced in virtually every American urban center, with potters from Maryland to Kentucky. Commercial distilleries in the Kentucky’s rural areas were on the rise, as was Louisville’s Stoneware industry, which produced the jugs used to package the region’s precious bourbon.
Bourbon was sold to general stores and saloons in wooden barrels. Customers brought Stoneware jugs to be filled, and the proprietors saw this as a marketing opportunity. They had Stoneware jugs printed with the name of their establishments for store customers to buy and have filled, and refilled, for the cost of the bourbon.
Louisville was perfectly positioned to become a center of river trade with the opening of PORTLAND CANAL IN 1830 followed by the construction of the LOUISVILLE AND FRANKFORT RAILROAD IN 1847. The city became a major trade center, with many whiskey rectifying and blending houses and barrel warehouses.
THE CIVIL WAR (1861-1865) tore the United States in half with two famous Kentuckians, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, leading each side.
While the City of Louisville was just south of the Mason Dixon line it was a stronghold for the Union Army, which kept Kentucky firmly in the Union. It was the center of planning, supplies, recruiting and transportation for numerous campaigns, especially in the Western Theater.
While the state of Kentucky officially declared its neutrality early in the war, prominent Louisville attorney James Speed, brother of President Abraham Lincoln's close friend Joshua Fry Speed, strongly advocated keeping the state in the Union.
Seeing Louisville's strategic importance in the freight industry, General William Tecumseh Sherman formed an army base in the city in the event that the Confederacy advanced. The Louisville Pottery would be a major supplier of storage containers for Union troops. On “Sherman’s March to the Sea” southern potteries were burned as they were seen as a major asset for troops and communities.
By the end of the Civil War, Louisville was a center for railroad traffic and the marketing of the whiskey industry.
The pottery changed through several hands in the 1800’s and came into possession of James Bauer who operated under the name of BAUER POTTERY CO., Cherokee Pottery and Louisville Pottery.
John B. Taylor acquired the pottery in 1938 and formed the JB TAYLOR COMPANY. He placed his name on the bottom of the pieces and transformed the pottery into a major supplier of dishware, flowerpots and bakeware. Under John Taylor’s leadership new patterns and shapes were created. He marketed his dishes throughout the country and created several designs that are still produced today at Louisville Stoneware.
During this period Mary Alice Hadley worked at the JB Taylor Company and started her career as one of the greatest designers of folk art patterns in the history of American Stoneware. Hadley had a “falling out” with Taylor and started the HADLEY POTTERY early in 1940. Mary Alice’s original pieces are highly sought after by collectors. The Hadley pottery is still in operation today in the Butchertown neighborhood, with similar shapes and processes.
Originally called Cornflower, what’s now known as one of the most popular patterns – BACHELOR BUTTON – was created during Taylor’s tenure by artist Edith Ellis. According to our history, Mamie Eisenhower had this pattern as her every day dishes in the White House.
JOHN ROBERTSON, a ceramics engineer, saved the pottery from closing after the death of Taylor in 1970 and changed the name to LOUISVILLE STONEWARE. Robertson, with his skills in ceramics, REENGINEERED THE GLAZES to remove lead, which was prevalent in pieces before 1970. These glaze recipes are still used today.
CHRISTY LEE BROWN took over stewardship of Louisville Stoneware in 1997. Combining her love of the arts and her family deep tradition in Kentucky she transformed the company with an updated look and feel. Changes included new branding, updating the showroom, adding factory tours and creating a new internet strategy for the company.
Brown understood the importance of infusing new designs and style into portfolio of Louisville Stoneware. Her collaboration with David Mahoney created several new patterns including Augusta, Flora and Graffiti.
Brown partnered with the contemporary boutique hotel 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville to create a new dinnerware product line called “Proof,” with the name being inspired by its restaurant, Proof on Main. 21C Louisville has earned top honors five years in a row in the Condé Nast Traveler annual Readers’ Choice survey and was voted among the top hotels in the world.
Brown’s vision not only saved this 200-year-old tradition, but placed it firmly on a path for the future.
STEPHEN A. SMITH became the steward of Louisville Stoneware in 2007 with his business partner and Chief Concept Officer Lisa Mullins Masters. Together they executed on Brown’s vision and continue the tradition of Louisville Stoneware. “Stoneware is a National Treasure” according to Smith and “we will do our part in protecting this important piece of Americana.”
Stoneware is a very proud of its partnership with JON CARLOFTIS, which began in 2008. A Kentucky native, author and pioneer in rooftop/small space gardening, Carloftis designed Stoneware’s line of birdhouses and flower pots.
In 2009 Stoneware began making a line of miniature penguins for 21C inspired by the 4-foot-tall limited edition plastic penguin sculptures exhibited throughout their four properties.
Under Smith’s leadership, Stoneware is planning a renovation of the factory and showroom in time for the company’s 200th Anniversary Celebration in 2015.
“While we look toward the future, we are always respectful of the past,” said Smith.
LISA MULLINS MASTERS took over the day-to-day reigns at Stoneware in 2007 and continues to provide vision and leadership to the entire team at Louisville Stoneware.
“I am honored to be part of this great National Treasure. Everyone on the team at Stoneware is dedicated to creating a great experience for the most important people in our company…our CUSTOMERS.”