The Shenango China Company, of New Castle, Pennsylvania, is a former manufacturer of Incaware, restaurant china with a light colored background and decoration.
One of Shenango’s more famous products was “American Haviland” for the French company Theodore Haviland from 1936 to 1958. It was also known for “Castleton China” that was commissioned by a German company. Shenango also manufactured dishes for presidents and serving dishes for the White House, including a commemorative plate for Dwight D. Eisenhower and dinnerware for Lyndon B. Johnson. 5
Shenango China, incorporated in 1901 with $100,000 in stock, 4 was led by Eugene N. Baer, W.G. Dunn, Andrew Fleckenstein, and D.T. McCarron. 3 A plant to manufacture semi-vitreous plain and decorated china was constructed at Emery Street and the Erie & Pittsburg Railroad in New Castle. It initially employed 150.
Shenango China announced that it would add new kilns and enlarge the physical plant to increase production capacity by a third at the cost of $50,000. 13
In January 1905, Shenango China declared bankruptcy. 3 The company was reorganized as Shenango Pottery in 1909 with a capital of $150,000, headed by James N. Smith, part owner of the local Smith-Kirk-Hutton hardware store. 6 It had 400 employees overseeing six kilns with a capacity of $225,000 worth of plain and decorated vitrified china.
Shenango purchased New Castle Pottery Company in 1912. 6 By March 1913, all equipment was moved into the New Castle Pottery facility. New Castle organized in 1901 when it acquired the plant of the New Castle Shovel Works and an adjoining handle factory. New Castle Pottery constructed an addition to the shovel factory and added new buildings for kilns. The company grew to 150 employees, producing semi-vitreous hotelware and dinnerware.
A large flood in March left three feet of water standing in the plant, which led to a delay in the opening of Shenango Pottery’s new factory until May. 6 The company installed a new sagger kiln in 1919, which more than doubled the sagger firing capacity of the plant. 1 New sagger clay bins were also installed that could hold 1,800 tons of sagger clay. 2 Shenango also added a new down-draft kiln, 22-feet in diameter, for burning glost saggers, a mold and decorating shop, slip house, biscuit wareroom, boiler house with a 250-horsepower boiler, sample room, vault, kitchen and pantry, and a spar crushing facility.
Expansion and Acquisitions
With the conclusion of World War II, there was a pent-up demand for dinnerware and over-glazed hotelware. 6 A physical plant expansion to add 150,000 square-feet for decoration and 60,000 square-feet for a 200-foot tunnel kiln for a new refractories division was initiated in 1945 and completed in 1947.
An effort to modernize its plant and its branding began in 1954 when Shenango Pottery was renamed to Shenango China. 6 The company soon added a fast fire kiln, which fired glostware in 1.10 hours, beating a previous time of 36 to 40 hours.
Shenango acquired Wallace China, to be operated as a subsidiary, in March 1959 15 and Mayer China in 1964. 5 The company was sold for $5.4 million 16 in 1968 to Inerpace Corporation, which produced Franciscan and Tiffin glassware and Franciscan and Myott Meakin dinnerware. Inerpace invested into its Shenango China Products division, adding another fast fire kiln in 1969. 10
For 1969, china shipments in terms of dollars exceeded 1968 substantially. 10 Despite kiln problems, Shenango received an order for 150,000 pieces of china for the International Hotel in Las Vegas, its largest single request for one establishment.
Shenango announced that it would undergo a five-year plant modernization and expansion project beginning in 1973, costing over $1 million, to keep up with surging demand. 11 Sales in 1972 were the highest in company history, up 14% from the year prior or almost double from 1964. The company also boasted that it was the largest employer in the area, with 1,200 on the payroll, up by 300 to 400 persons from the decade prior. For the year 1973, the company saw record sales but had to turn away significant quantities of business, estimated at $2.5 million, because of capacity constraints. 12 Because of this, Interpace announced on July 19, 1973, that it would expand Shenango in two phases:
- Phase one, totaling $2.7 million, completed in May 1974. 14
- Phase two, totaling $2.3 million, completed by 1978.
The expansion included the addition of two straight-line tunnel kilns and all attendant processes for producing bisque ware. 12 A new automated cup system was installed, which allowed for the production of all of the different Shenango shapes directly from clay and transferred them to their bisque kiln. The expansion also allowed for room for the repair and refurbishment of existing equipment. 14 The additions netted 75 new jobs. 12 14 The company later developed the “Valiela” decorating process, reducing the cost of printing. 6
Interpace sold Shenango to Anchor Hocking in March 1979, 17 who invested in computerized body batch making and new clay forming, decorating and firing equipment. 6 Anchor Hocking sold Shenango to Newell Company of Freeport, Illinois in 1987, although Newell sold Shenango to Canadian Pacific, the parent company of Syracuse China, within six months. Syracuse, citing labor costs, closed Shenango China and reorganized. All former employees were forced to apply for their old positions at a lower pay scale, although many chose not to return.
Canadian Pacific sold Shenango China, along with Mayer and Syracuse, to the Pfaltzgraff Company of York, Pennsylvania in 1989. 6 The Mayer operation moved to Shenango. Plans were drawn up for an expansion of Shenango, but consolidation in physical plants and a downturn in the economy led to the permanent closure of New Castle factory in December 1991. An auction of some equipment and finished china was held on March 24, 1992.
A fire later ruled an arson engulfed a part of the former Shenango facility on June 28, 2011. 7 8 Workers who had been in the factory the day prior cleaning up debris and brush, had chased out individuals who were using torches to burn plastic coatings off of wire in attempted copper theft. 9 The factory was the site of another fire on May 25, 2012. 8