|Former type||China and Pottery Manufacturing|
|Fate||Bought out by Libbey Inc. of Toledo, Ohio - all production moved from North America|
|Headquarters||Syracuse, New York, United States|
|Area served||United States|
|Key people||Lyman W. Clark, Richard H. Pass, James Pass, Bert E. Salisbury|
|Products||Vitreous China tableware, earthenware & bone china|
|Subsidiaries||Country Ware Corp. (1975)|
Syracuse China Corporation, located in Syracuse, New York, was a manufacturer of fine china. Founded in 1871 as Onondaga Pottery Company (O.P. Co.) in the town of Geddes, New York, the company initially produced earthenware. In the late 19th century, O.P.Co., began producing fine china, for which it found a strong market particularly in hotels, restaurants, and railroad dining cars. The manufacturing facility in Syracuse closed in 2009, after 138 years in operation and production was removed from North America.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Farrar pottery
- 1.2 Empire crockery
- 1.3 Onondaga pottery
- 1.4 Syracuse china
- 2 Company management
- 3 Company presidents
- 4 Back stamps
- 5 Syracuse shapes
- 6 The "Turner-Over Club"
- 7 Advertisements
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The company was founded in 1841 as Farrar Pottery and was bought out in 1868 and the name was changed to Empire Crockery Manufacturing Company. By 1871, it was changed again to Onondaga Pottery Company (O.P.Co.) and eventually to Syracuse China Corporation in June 1966, however the china produced by the company was back stamped with the Syracuse China logo since 1895.
In 1841, William H. Farrar, who had recently arrived from Vermont in 1839, started a small pottery business in the town of Geddes, New York, on the western edge of Syracuse for making salt-glazed stoneware, an American ceramic product around since colonial times. He was a member of an extended family of stoneware potters active in northern New England and Canada.
Farrar's product-line grew to include a red ware styled after Rockingham, reproducing English ware such as cast dogs and spittoons. Farrar Pottery also produced "wheel-thrown," salt-glazed, heavy, utilitarian urns, whiskey jugs, pie plates, butter crocks and mixing bowls in stoneware. In 1857, Farrar moved his pottery closer to the newly constructed Erie Canal on Furnace Street (later renamed to West Fayette Street). Farrer operated a substantial business. In his first year, he used 225 tons of clay from New Jersey and he sold the company wares for $9,360.
The company, ironically, was located far from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio centers of ceramic manufacture. Additionally, there were limited natural sources of clay in Central New York and no source for coal, nor were there any clay workers in the region. The industry survived because raw materials and fuel were easily transported on the Erie Canal and the emerging national system of railroads.
Early potteries in America relied on skilled English potters. The majority of china at that time was imported from England and was considered superior to the earthenware produced in the United States. English workers were at a premium until immigration laws tightened up and the potteries had to rely on American workers.
Rockingham was a mottled yellow and red ware made using a locally available yellow clay, but in the 1860s, Farrar was able to acquire a pure white clay suitable for making finer porcelain and china.
During the time he ran the company, Farrar was able to expand his plant only modestly. An 1858 map shows his pottery was a 2 1⁄2-story building which had been converted from a dwelling.
In 1868, Farrer sold his business to Peter Coykendall, a native of New Jersey who had settled in Syracuse in the early 1850s. He owned the property where Farrar's property stood. Coykendall formed the Empire Crockery Manufacturing Company and envisioned a larger plant than Farrar's with a "mass production factory operation." An English potter, Lyman W. Clark, managed the firm and was one of the original partners with Coykendall. The company name was briefly changed to Coykendall & Company.
Coykendall and a small group of backers worked together to raise capital. On August 4, 1868, the group announced the sale of capital stock to the amount of $75,000; however, they raised significantly less.
Under Clark's direction, a line of "white ware" for table use was added. Like most pottery of the time, it was susceptible to "crazing" which occurs when small cracks appear in the glazed surface.
Empire never backstamped any of their ware. This was a common practice in the 1860s and was thought to stem from the belief that the public would not buy it if they knew it wasn't English.
On July 20, 1871, sixteen local businessmen purchased the struggling local pottery, incorporated, capitalized the company for $50,000, and began to expand its lines to produce white earthenware for table and toilet use. The company extended its lines to include restaurant and retail consumer chinaware and various ceramic wares such as storage containers, planters, bed pans, serving vessels and table accessories.
The board of directors elected R. Nelson Gere as their president. He was president of the local Merchant's National Bank, the Syracuse Iron Works, the Syracuse Gas and Light Company as well as the Geddes and Syracuse Street Railway.
Lyman W. Clark was retained by the firm and promoted to superintendent of manufacturing. Clark hired English potters and trained local men. The new company soon expanded its facilities. At first the firm back stamped its ware with the English Lion and Unicorn Arms. During 1873, the company dropped its reference to England and adopted the Great Seal of the State of New York to mark the improvements in its ironstone ware.
In 1878, the company was located in the old village of Geddes at the corner of Furnace Street (West Fayette Street) and School Street. The town was annexed into the city of Syracuse during 1886 and many of the street names were changed. George Oliver was the general manager.
Popular taste demanded a finer ceramic tableware than the heavy pottery made by early ceramic companies. Onondaga Pottery began producing a heavy earthenware called Ironstone but struggled to succeed. In 1873, they began manufacturing a "white granite ware" and then in 1885, a semi-vitreous ware. A year later they replaced this with high fired china and a guarantee that the glaze would not crackle or craze - the first time an American-made tableware carried such a warranty. It was at this point, 45 years after the start of pottery production in Syracuse that the business showed a stable and profitable prospect.
By 1875, Lyman Clark had announced his intention to leave the company as soon as his successor was in place. He left the company for Boston, Massachusetts, and started his own company. Another English Staffordshire-trained potter, Richard H. Pass, was hired to fill his position as superintendent in June 1875.
Pass had been working in the United States since 1863 and came from Trenton, New Jersey, a ceramic center of the country, with a wealth of experience. Pass died on July 15, 1880, at age 56. His most successful contribution was the introduction of his son, James Pass, to the company.
James Pass was a skilled potter by age nineteen. He had come to the pottery in 1875 with his father. At age 20, he worked as foreman for $2 a day, six days a week. Pass soon mastered every job in the factory.
He enrolled in an evening class in analytical chemistry at Syracuse University to learn about the problems of ceramic manufacturing "through the principles of scientific research." In 1879, he left the company to seek "broader opportunities" and ended up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he managed a pottery for the Harmony Society. The Mayer brothers, later of Mayer China Company took over its operation in 1881 and he was no longer needed.
Pass next invested in an ill-fated enterprise with a small inheritance from his father's death in 1880. The venture was a pottery works near the clay deposits at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He later ended up in Trenton, New Jersey, the ceramic capital of the country, where he was not successful persuading Ott & Brewer Company to establish a laboratory for cooperative research in the fundamental problems of ceramic making.
In January 1883, the O.P.Co. built a new plant at a cost of $16,000. Directors, Gere and Oliver had visited potteries around the country for ideas. The new facility included a workshop, two kilns, a storehouse and an engine and boiler. The building was constructed of brick and was three-stories tall and close to the canal. The new building was in operation for less than a year when the old Farrar works, on the same property, was destroyed by fire in December 1883.
Until 1884, the company produced plain white, undecorated ware. That year, Elmer Walter established the Boston China Decorating Works across the street from the pottery, giving the company access to a designer, printer and hand decorator. The decorating shop was destroyed by fire in 1886 and the pottery hired Walter and his employees and established "one of the earliest in-house decorating departments in the industry."
By 1884, George W. Oliver was looking for a man to take the place of Richard H. Pass. James Pass was recommended and was rehired in June 1884. Pass joined O.P.Co. as superintendent and in later years he was named president. During his 28 years with the firm, he turned the company into a national leader in ceramic research. During 1888, he developed America's first truly vitreous china body. Pass introduced the new china body to the public in 1891 with a line of fancy accessory pieces called Imperial Geddo. His new ware won the medal for translucent china at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
By 1895, the name Syracuse China appeared in the back stamp of this revolutionary, pure white, vitreous china; however, the company name was not formally changed until 1966. Syracuse was one of the first china manufacturers in the United States to produce the new vitreous ware.
The company had four kilns 16.5 feet (5.0 m) in diameter. Two of the kilns were used for the first and second burning of the pottery and the other two kilns were used for the glazing process. It took from three to five days to pack each kiln with enough ware and the first burning lasted from 30 to 48 hours. The heat was about the same as that required to fuse iron. After the fires were drawn, it took about four days for the forms to cool. Next the ware was glazed and burned a second time from 24 to 36 hours. It took an entire week to complete both burnings. After the glazing process, the decorations were applied and the china was burned a third time.
Once Onondaga Pottery Company (O.P.Co.) began producing vitreous china, they found a strong market for the ware, particularly in hotels, restaurants, and railroad dining cars. Technical innovations such as chip resistance, introduced in 1896, appealed to institutional buyers who needed durable china, yet still demanded style and aesthetics.
The chip-resistant, Round Edge shape was introduced in 1896 and the pottery became the national leader in the fast growing institutional and hotel ware market which required a heavier, more durable product. At that time, company salesmen gave away over 2,500 samples. Orders started to come in before production officially began.
Later in 1896, the company installed the industry's first in-house lithographic shop for the "printing of decals." This made it easy for the decorating department to make inexpensive lithography of hotel and restaurant labels feasible which helped "further the company's market penetration of the institutional markets."
The range included patterns such as Yellow Spirals, Blue Liberty, Blue Grass and Woodgrain.
The fine decorated translucent china produced for home use became a national best seller. It was made of the same durable china body as the hotel ware; however, it was formed into thinner, more stylish shapes. In 1908, the company perfected its "underglaze decal process."
Bert E. Salisbury was appointed as president after James Pass died in 1913. Salisbury led the company to a "new age of marketing and advanced technology." National advertising campaigns were soon found on the pages of popular magazines.
By November 1917, the company had completed a new addition adjourning their Fayette Street plant. It was constructed on property the company purchased in 1916 and was equal to one third the capacity of the old structure. H. D. Beat & Company of New York City, were the contractors. By 1917, Onondaga Pottery Company produced one-third of all vitreous china made in the United States.
The Fayette Street structure was 579 feet (176 m) by 287 feet (87 m) and had 284,850 square feet (26,463 m2) on 6.5 acres (26,000 m2). The "very complete and modern power plant" was equipped with the Jones Underfeed Automatic stokers and had a boiler capacity of 750 horsepower (560 kW) as well as complete electrical equipment for generating and distributing power and light.
The initial construction activity on the new site involved an outlay of $300,000, "exclusive of the actual cost of the property upon which the factory will be erected."
The plant was opened on June 7, 1922. It was the first linear, one-floor plant in the American china industry. Manufacture of fine china continued in the West Fayette Street plant until 1970 at which time the factory was torn down and all production moved to the Court Street facility.
The company's first, "colored" china body, Old Ivory, appeared in 1926. The narrow-bodied Econo-Rim was tailored for the cramped table space of dining cars and was designed by R. Guy Cowan in 1933. For decades, O.P.Co. manufactured 70% of the US's railroad china.
During World War II, under the leadership of Richard Pass, the company developed non-detectable ceramic anti-tank land mines. For their efforts, the company received the distinguished United States Army-Navy "E" award for "excellence in service" to the war effort.
The Blue Plum collection, which featured "intense cerulean (blue) shades that transitioned into spotless whites" was made available only to the employees of Syracuse China during the holiday seasons and was never made available to the consumer.
After the war, the company "developed a record number of shapes and patterns for both commercial hotel and dinnerware china." During 1954, the Onondaga Pottery Electronics Division was formed to produce printed circuit ceramic components for radio and television manufacturers; however, this venture closed in 1959.
During 1959, the company also established a Canadian china manufacturing subsidiary called the Vandesca Pottery Ltd. of Joliette, Quebec. It was the only pottery in Canada to manufacture vitreous china.
In 1988, Syracuse China/Vandesca wanted a product to compete with Lenox's white-bodied china. The company imported similar Japanese Biscuit-ware which was decorated and glazed at the Canadian plant. A small amount of "custom" work was decorated at the Mayer plant while it was in operation and later at the Court Street plant.
The imported product was called Royal Rideau and was back stamped as such in Canada. The same product was called Luxor in the United States and back stamped as Luxor Mayer. The china served the upscale market. It was used for the Parliament and Chateau shapes.
Problems arose with the product when it was discovered that the dimensions of the bisque were inconsistent. In 1993, the ceramic engineers at the "revived" laboratory at Syracuse China, directed by Roger Markell, developed its own "bright white" high alumina body using clay imported from England. At that time, the Luxor name was dropped and Royal Rideau was used instead.
Vandesca Pottery Ltd. was closed in 1994.
As the company approached its 100th anniversary in 1971, major changes were underway. Facing competition from low cost Asian manufacturers for the retail consumer market, the company was forced to take drastic actions.
Since 1871, the company had been owned by two Syracuse families, the Pass family and Salisbury family, now after four generations, ownership passed to new management who purchased the assets of the old company and formed the Syracuse China Corporation on September 30, 1971. At that time, the company began focusing exclusively on hotel ware.
During 1975, under company president and chairman, Robert J. Theis, a new line of hand-cast, hand-finished metal tableware and other accessories were introduced. They were manufactured and marketed by a new subsidiary of the company called Country Ware Corp. The product was crafted in a metal alloy, Syralloy, which could hold a variety of attractive finishes and was "virtually impossible to crack or break."
By February 1977, the company introduced "a major array of new products and appropriate selling programs."
Early in 1973, Syracuse China bought local Will & Baumer candle manufacturing company of Syracuse. The company produced dinnerware and religious candles. Combined sales that year totaled $20 million (including $9 million of candle sales).
The merger did not prove profitable for the china manufacturer. Almost immediatelyj after the acquisition, paraffin wax costs climbed from five cents to twenty-one cents a pound due to the Mideast oil embargo in 1974. At the same time, Roman Catholic rituals were changed, which reduced the need for religious candles and resulted in a decline in profits for the company.
Consequently, Syracuse China sold Will & Baumer in 1978.
Ownership changes again
In April 1978, shareholders of Syracuse China Corporation voted to merge with Canadian Pacific Investments, Ltd. The company further expanded its presence in 1988 by acquiring the Mayer China Company in 1984 and Shenango China Company (formerly Shenango Pottery), both of Pennsylvania. Shenango was purchased from Anchor Hocking Corp. Both plants were closed and operation was consolidated to the Court Street plant in the early 1990s.
In late 1978, the company sold its subsidiary, the Country Ware Company to Wiltale Armetale, a leading competitor. This decision occurred after Canadian Pacific decided not to support a foundry operation in the United States.
In 1989, Canadian Pacific put the Syracuse China Company on the market and the Susquehanna-Pfaltzgraff Company of York, Pennsylvania, outbid more than 20 investors for the pottery. After 6 years of ownership, Susquehanna sold the company to Libbey Inc. in 1995.
The engineering team made many advances in the 1990s. The company became the first American commercial pottery to operate a fully computer-controlled tunnel kiln. The new kiln reduced the number of skilled kiln technicians needed because it collected information as the kiln fired and made adjustments automatically.
The store was located at the company headquarters in Lyncourt Plaza, on the corner of Teall Avenue and Court Street in Syracuse. They sold their china including first quality and second quality, which were popular and economical china sets with young households in the area. Additionally, the company sold many other kitchen wares in the shop including products from companies such as Oneida Community, Ltd., a producer of flatware and silverware located in Oneida, New York and Libbey Inc., a producer of glassware.
Syracuse production moved
On April 9, 2009, after 138 years of production, the factory on Court Street was closed by Libbey Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, and all production of Syracuse China moved from North America. At that time, the plant had to lay off 275 employees, all members of Local 381 of the Glass, Molders, Pottery and Allied Workers International union.
On the last day of production, each employee was given a commemorative plate with a montage of images from throughout the company's history and eight of the company logos used over the course of the company's history. The face of the plate states, "Though the world may change around us, our history remains the same."
The back of each plate was stamped "38-A," the last date stamp to appear on a Syracuse China product made in Syracuse. The "38" is code for the year it was made (1971, the company's centennial year, plus 38 years). Within the nomenclature, the "A" stands for the first quarter of the year. The back of each plate also has text indicating it was one of the last "pieces to be made in Syracuse, N.Y."
The archives and china collections of Syracuse China were donated to the Onondaga Historical Association after the society began working with the new owner, Libbey Inc. to secure the company's revered collection of historical china.
After arrangements were made with Libbey Inc, the Onondaga Historical Society "found itself sitting on a pile of collectibles that had already been catalogued but required packaging, labeling and transportation." The items filled six and a half tractor trailers and included over 30,000 pieces. At any one time, the museum exhibit, which will open to the public in 2011, will display enough china to fill 30 glass-front display cabinets. The museum will "change out items occasionally to keep the exhibit fresh."
The "wide range" of pieces on display includes a ceramic spittoon from the mid-19th century and plates hand-painted by such artists as Grandma Moses and N. C. Wyeth. Additionally, the company's award-winning Imperial Geddo ware and a ceramic land mine from World War II as well as examples of china sets including those used by American embassies around the world and airlines, steamships and American railroads such as Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Great Northern and New York Central.
Highly sought after collectible patterns sell regularly on collectible sites, eBay and at estate sales.
- Henry Case (1871) director and first general manager of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- Lyman W. Clark (1871–1875) superintendent of Onondaga Pottery Co. manufacturing
- George W. Oliver (1873–1889) general manager of Onondaga Pottery Co. business affairs
- Richard Henry Pass (1875–1880) superintendent of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- R. Nelson Gere (1871-) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- Mills Pharis (-1892) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- E. B. Judson (1892-) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- James Pass (1910–1913) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- Bert Eugene Salisbury (1913-) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- Richard Pass (1942–1958) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- Foster T. Rhodes (1958–1967) president of Onondaga Pottery Co.
- William Root Salisbury (1961–1971) president of Syracuse China Corp.
- Robert J. Theis (1971–1978) chairman and president of Syracuse China Corp.
- Chester D. Amond (1978–1991) president of Syracuse China Corp.
- William Simpson (1992–1992) president of Syracuse China Corp.
- Charles S. Goodman (1992-) president of Syracuse China Corp.
The back stamps are useful as guides to the age of the china:
- 1885–1890: O.P.Co. with a broken line beneath with the word CHINA
- 1890–1895: O.P.Co. with a solid line beneath with the word CHINA
- 1895–1897: Syracuse China O.P.Co. surrounding a hemisphere
- 1897–1926: O.P.CO. Syracuse China
- 1920–1946: O.P.CO. Syracuse China with date codes
- 1927–1960: Old Ivory
- 1932–1972: Adobe ware
- 1933–1967: Econo Rim
- 1959–1974: Syracuse China of Canada
- 1968–2009: Syracuse China Made in America (or USA) - numerous versions
Before a piece of china could be made, a staff of designers, modelers and pattern artists createed models and studies for the shape of the new piece. From initial design to completion, a new shape sometimes required as much as a year of preparation. Only after a shape was approved was the final mold created.
Mayer and Shenango shapes included Stylus, Staffordshire, Carlton, Parliament, Fanfare and Cord-edge.
Additional shapes included Oneida, Mayflower, Morwel, Syrene, A la Carte, Savoy, Turina, Marmora, Puritan, Rolled Edge, American, Olympus and Doric.
Other names found on Syracuse China include Canterbury, Old Ivory, Nature Study, Old Cathay, Palomino, Key Biscayne, Golden Maize, Harmony and Superior China.
The "Turner-Over Club"
Syracuse China sponsored the Turner-Over Club (later the Turn-Over Club) as a promotion for decades. The company gave out membership cards, with the idea that wherever members traveled, they would "turn over" their dinnerware to see if it was Syracuse China; witnesses to this curious behavior would then be treated to the story of the club and thus introduced to the brand name.
- Syracuse China Corp. History of Syracuse China. Syracuse, NY. 1970.
- Reed, Cleota and Skoczen, Stan. Syracuse China. Syracuse University Press, 1997. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "Syracuse and Onondaga China Information and History". Collectives, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "The History of Syracuse China". Syracuse Then and Now, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- "Historic Ceramics". Lake Country Archaeology, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "History of the Town of Geddes". D. Mason & Co., Syracuse, New York - 1878. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- "Making Pottery". Syracuse Sunday Herald (Syracuse, New York). October 27, 1895.
- "Onondaga Pottery Co. Completes Addition". Syracuse Journal (Syracuse, New York). September 19, 1917.
- "Onondaga Pottery Co. to Start Work on $300,000 New Home". Syracuse Daily Journal (Syracuse, New York). July 16, 1921.
- Moriarty, Rick. "Syracuse China plant clatters to a close today". Syracuse Online LLC, 2006. Retrieved 2009-04-06.
- "Salisbury Estate Worth $652,192". Syracuse Herald-Journal (Syracuse, New York). April 29, 1948.
- Huddleston Jr., Tom. "Onondaga Historical Association unveils Syracuse China exhibit for two fundraisers". Syracuse Online LLC, March 22, 2010. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
- "Syracuse China Ready for Challenges Ahead". The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York). February 16, 1976.
- "Shenango China, China Replacements". Robbins Nest China Replacement, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "Syracuse China Outlet Store". The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York). January 30, 1986.
- "SRC Board of Trustees". SRC Inc., 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "Guide to Date Codes and Backstamps for Syracuse China". Antiques, Collectibles and Auction News, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- "Antiques and Collectibles Porcelain, Pottery, China and Dinnerware - Marks". My Grannies Attic and Collectibles, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- "The Turner-Over Club: A talisman of home". Syracuse Post-Standard, December 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
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