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Clay Products
By H. Karl Butler

A Centennial History of Akron 1825-1925

Summit County Historical Society, Akron, Ohio 1925, p 303-312

     THE first symptom of incipient civilization is pottery. The savage has his manufactures, but they pertain to the hunt and warfare. When he advances beyond the stage where he is content with a hand-to-mouth existence, he begins making pottery. He has made the first step to­ward civilization.

The introduction of clay into the industrial life of Akron is analogous to its entrance into the social develop­ment of a tribe. There were manufacturers in what is now Akron before the clay beds were discovered and utilized, but they were such primitive industries as flour milling and saw milling and such iron manufactures as pertained to the pioneer's life.

It was in clay that Akron found its first important ex­port product.

 The development of the clay products industry, in its early phases, illustrates the pioneer's enterprise and adaptability. It was something which he found here, and he promptly began using it.

Long before the days of prior preference stock, plot­ted curves of production and analyzed sales resistance, a man named Fiske discovered, in Springfield township, a bed of clay suitable for making stoneware. Fiske, who was a hired hand on the farm of a man named Cutchel, promptly bought the four-acre clearing where he had made the find and began manufacturing crocks and pans. The year was about 1828.

His first apparatus was a crude "kick wheel." The products of this primitive machine were sorely needed. What household and dairy equipment the pioneer had then had been brought, at a considerable expense of money or effort, from New England. No cabin had more than a few such utensils. There was an immediate demand for those which Fiske manufactured. He took a helper, a man named Smith, and built another wheel for him. The two together set up the firm of Fiske and Smith, the first clay products company in what was to become Summit County.

Two years later business was so good that they were able to hire a boy who had learned the trade in Painesville -a boy named Edwin H. Merrill, whose name was to loom as the real founder of the industry which made Akron the center of the clay products trade in America.

Edwin H. Merrill had learned the trade from his father, Abijah. Another son of Abijah Merrill, Calvin J., was also an adept at the trade and soon followed Edwin to Springfield, to be followed at a later date by the father himself. They worked for Fiske and for another potter, Solomon Purdy, who had entered the business in the meantime.

In 1835, Edwin Merrill bought out his former em­ployer, Fiske. His first factory had a few crude wheels. It was housed in a shed, and its kiln was an up-draft, wood-burning affair. The father and brother worked with him. This enterprise branched beyond the house­hold utensil trade soon after it was organized. Edwin Merrill invented a machine for making clay smoking pipes, and soon the manufacture of stoneware beer and ink bottles was added to the activities. There was a rushing trade in these articles, and the factory soon proved inadequate. Middlebury offered greater advan­tages. It was a larger and more direct market and it had transportation facilities. In 1847 the Merrill pottery moved to that village and established, on Bank st., its first real plant.

This made Middlebury a clay products village. Two years after the Merrill pottery began business on Bank st., David E. Hill, Col. Reuben McMillen and Robert Foster organized the Hill, Foster & Co. potteries and two years later the Merrills and Hezekiah Camp took Foster's place in the firm, and it became Hill, Merrill & Co.

At about this time the Merrill brothers invented a machine for making small water and sewer pipes. These were manufactured in hexagonal moulds and machines were used for boring them. This early apparatus pro­duced a sewer pipe which was bulky and unwieldy, but as a step toward the introduction of a new industry, they were important.

It had become apparent that the clay which was found in and around Akron (by that time beds had been opened inside the present city limits of this community) was excellently adapted for the manufacture of sewer pipe. David Hill and C. J. Merrill interested themselves pri­marily in the evolution of machinery for producing a more practical pipe by a less devious process.

Here the clay products industry goes off into two branches. Originally established to produce stoneware utensils for use in the early homes and on the early farms, it now began to devote a great deal of its activities to­ward the manufacture of sewer pipe, but to describe sepa­rately the development of these two branches—the sewer pipe, and the stoneware utensil—is practically impossible. There was a great deal of change not only in the products of the companies, but in the companies themselves.

In 1856, five years after the formation of the firm of Hill, Merrill and Co., the firm of Whitmore, Robinson & Co. was established to manufacture a wide variety of pottery. In these two companies, through the many changes that were made, were the roots of the two out­standing clay products companies of today—the Robinson Clay Products Co. and the American Vitrified Prod­ucts Co.

In 1861, Edwin H. Merrill and his son, Henry E. Merrill, withdrew from the Hill concern and established a big stoneware factory at South Main and State sts. Into this new business they introduced new specialties. In 1880, Frederick W. Butler entered the Merrill firm.

There began now an era which was to last until the dawn of a new century—an era of scattered clay fac­tories, with small plants starting up here and there wher­ever clay was found. Business was not as intense then as it is Snow ; it was possible for these small companies to continue in competition with each other.

They manufactured jugs, milk pans, crocks, flower­pots, meat-tubs, bottles, jars, jelly-cups and bowls for farm housekeeping. The manufacturer himself often re­tailed his own ware. After a winter of production (Akron was isolated in the cold months ; the canal boats were frozen into the ice), the potter loaded his wares on a canal boat, and set off through the state, swapping his products for grain or live stock in the stringent clays when currency was scarce.

It was not until 1900 that the greater number of these companies were consolidated and that the clay products industry took essentially the lines which it follows today.

The Hill Company—represented now by the Ameri­can Vitrified Products Co.—underwent several changes in personnel after the Merrills withdrew. In 1868 it be­came the Hill & Adams Sewer Pipe Co. Among the stockholders in the corporation then were David L. King, Frank Adams, Lorenzo B. Austin, Ozias Barber and David E. Hill. This firm extended operations. A new two-story brick factory was erected. The best machinery was installed. The first main development of the sewer pipe branch of the business was begun in this firm at this time.

In 1871, Frank Adams and David L. King organized the Akron Sewer Pipe Co. David E. Hill and his son, George R.; James Viall, L. S. Ebright and John Har­rison later joined this company. Two years afterward, David E. and George R. Hill, and James Viall organized the Hill Sewer Pipe Co. Viall had been a boatman on the Pennsylvania & Ohio canal and had hauled the clay products before he entered the business of their manufac­ture.

In 1868, the same year that the Hill and Adams Sewer Pipe Co. was incorporated, the Buckeye Sewer Pipe works were built near one of the biggest clay pits in the city, in the vicinity of Exchange and Arlington sts. Joseph H. Baldwin, Jonathan H. Brewster and Harry H. Gibbs were prominent in this company.

In 1879 Robinson Bros. & Co. built one of the largest plants in the Old Forge. Prominent in the history of this company are the names of Henry Robinson, Byron W. Robinson, Thomas Robinson, William Robinson, James B. Manton and J. F. Townsend.

The Summit Sewer Pipe Co. was established in 1889 with a big plant on Miami st. in South Akron. J. A. Baldwin and J. H. Brewster were joined by Edwin H. Gibbs and George T. Whitmore in this firm.

In the late eighties, the American Sewer Pipe Co. was incorporated by the five main companies then existing. Members of each company were on the board of directors. This association and its purposes were reminiscent of one which had been formed in the infancy of the industry fifty years before, portioning out exclusive territories to each of the allied firms and establishing an agreement on prices. The association formed in the eighties had for its principal purpose the regulation of sales according to the capacities of plants and the establishment of protection against manufacturers of inferior wares. In 1901, the actual contract of the earlier association was found among the papers of E. H. Merrill, then deceased. He and his brother were among the twelve signers.

Mention must be made of the firm which was established in the early fifties by Enoch Rawley and Edwin and Herbert Baker, which manufactured Rockingham and Yellow ware in Middlebury. This firm early in its history became a part of the Whitmore-Robinson concern.

It would be impossible to name all the companies which were organized during the 1800's for the manufacture of clay products. The Ohio Stoneware Co. on Fountain st. and the United States Stoneware Co. next door, operated as competitors. George A. Parker and James M. Wills were among the names included in their official rosters. In the last decade they have merged under the name of the United States Stoneware Co.

Arthur J. Weeks manufactured Akron Stoneware at Arlington and East Market sts. for many years. L. K. Force and Russell H. Kent had a similar factory on Bank st. John Cook and William Fairbanks were also in busi­ness on Arlington st. The Akron Queensware Co. made queensware pottery at the intersection of Hart st. and the Valley Railroad. Members of this company were Charles C. Bates, Frank C. Tinker, T. B. Coxton and Mandus M. Hunsicker.

There was a time when nearly every child in Akron had a collection of tiny toy stoneware jugs. These were made by the American Marble and Toy Manufacturing Co. which Samuel C. Dyke established in 1884. At one time, operating with two plants, his daily output was 30,000. Burdette L. Dodge, Judge J. A. Kohler and Ira M. Miller were among its officers.

The stoneware men formed an association similar to that which was formed by the sewer pipe companies in the eighties, and a little in advance of it. The Akron Stoneware Agency was the name of this federation. In the association were James M. Wills, Henry S. Belden, Russell H. Kent, Arthur J. Weeks and William Fair­banks.

Stoneware and sewer pipes are not the only clay prod­ucts which Akron has evolved.

During the last thirty-five years, a number of companies have been formed to manufacture bricks. Their growth progressed for a time with the increase of paved road and street mileage. One of the first of these companies was the Akron Vitrified Brick Co., incorporated in 1890. Its plants were across the Cuyahoga county line, but its officers were Akron men —Joseph C. Ewart, George W. Crouse, Erastus R. Har­per and Walter A. Folger being among them—and its offices were in Akron. James C. and John J. McCausland had a brick plant on Tallmadge ay.; John Bailey had one on Portage Path; Samuel, Joseph and William M. Cooper, one at Spicer and Johnson sts.; and Joseph Hugill and Elijah C. Briggs, one on Washington st. extension. The brick industry, however, never achieved great prominence. The Windsor Brick Company which has been operating on Grant st. for twenty-eight years was the last of this group until The Camp Bros. Company built a large new plant near Mogadore about five years ago.

One Akron firm made roofing tile here for a time and furnished tile for many important buildings in the United States. Joseph C. Ewart operated the Roofing Tile Works on Brook st. after its founding in 1875.

In 1900 the clay products business shifted around to­ward a more solid and substantial form of organization. Whitmore, Robinson and Co. merged with the E. H. Merrill Co. as the Robinson, Merrill Co. Two years later this was changed to the Robinson Clay Product Co. The American Sewer Pipe Co. had meantime absorbed a great many of the smaller plants. These two companies became the principal clay manufactories.

The clay products industry today is radically different than it was at its inception in Summit county. The de­mands in the early days were simple; the pioneers wanted  plain, simple utensils, and that was largely the extent of the industry

As the cities grew, sanitation became a problem, and Akron, with its veins of clay peculiarly adapted to sewer pipe use, turned to supply this demand. Many of the old pottery companies converted their plants to this branch of the work. In the meantime, Akron had ceased being a pioneer city. There was a demand for finer table ware. A few of the stoneware companies continued making their particular products and some modified their product to suit the growing demands for better grades of ware, im­porting finer grades of clay for the purpose. Of these, the Summit China Company, formerly the Akron Stone­ware Company located on Bank st. now makes "high dinner-ware" and does a large yearly business. Many of the factories which had been located at their clay pits closed when the veins were exhausted, especially the sewer pipe factories. It was impossible to pay for shipment of great quantities of raw clay while a competitor sat on top of his own supply.

Only one of the Akron stoneware firms, the United States Stoneware Company, still manufactures a full line of pottery. It has also entered the field of chemical stone­ware, including the making of great heavy retorts and storage vats to be used in the manufacture of chemicals. This company is the sole surviving firm of the stoneware industry in Akron, but it does a yearly business which probably would total more than the combined business of all the stoneware plants during the first twenty-five years of the business in Akron.

Chemical-ware production was pioneered and devel­oped, starting about twenty years ago, by Maurice Knight, who still operates his plant making the highest grade, acid-proof chemical stoneware in the country. Perfect work­manship and an impervious glaze are necessary for these large pieces.

With the growth of the electric industry the de­mand has risen for electrical porcelain, especially for insulation purposes. Fine porcelain clays are import­ed from other states. Three companies in this vicinity are in the manufacture of this product, The Ohio Insulator Company of Barberton, The Colonial Insulator Company of Akron and the Mogadore Insulator Company located at that village. These companies have been oper­ating for about thirty years. The Barberton com­pany is a subsidiary of the Ohio Brass Company, The Colonial Insulator Company was formerly The Colo­nial Sign Company, and the Mogadore company was until recently The Akron Smoking Pipe Company, which is now operated by Fred W. Butler, Jr., almost within a stone's throw of the place where his great-grandfather turned jugs on a "kick wheel" ninety years ago. These companies manufacture a full line of insulators and special parts for electrical devices.

Following his father, who was a member of the orig­inal Hill-Merrill Co., H. B. Camp, among many other projects, made building tile in Cuyahoga Falls and Green-town. His son, L. W. Camp, continues in this business with a plant on Grant st., which was established about twenty-one years ago. Another son, H. H. Camp, gives personal attention to the Camp Bros. brick plant.

As has been related, the Robinson Clay Product Com­pany and the American Vitrified Products Company (suc­cessor to the American Sewer Pipe Co.) rose to a domi­nation of the sewer pipe field in the early years of this century. The Robinson firm is headed by Henry B. Manton, son of James B. Manton, one of the founders of the firm in 1856. It has eight plants in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

The American Vitrified Products Company is headed by George R. Hill, son of David E. Hill, who, with the Merrills, manufactured the first sewer pipe here in 1851. Among the thirteen plants operated by this firm is the largest sewer pipe factory in the world, located at Barber ton. The two companies have a combined capitalization of $9,000,000 and do an annual business amounting to nearly $10,000,000.

The twelve chief clay products companies now op­erating in and about Akron are the Robinson Clay Product Company, American Vitrified Products Com­pany, United States Stoneware Company, Summit China Company, M. A. Knight Company, Camp Brothers Company, L. W. Camp Company, Crouse Clay Products Company, Ohio Insulator Company, Colonial Insulator Company, Mogadore Insulator Company and Windsor Brick Company.

The total capitalization of these companies is approxi­mately $11,000,000 and they do an annual business of about $13,700,000. They employ thirty-four hundred men, about one-third of them in Akron plants.

It is possible, within the confines of this short chapter, after mention of men and companies to do no more than hint of the romance which time lends to the early years of this industry. It had also a definite touch of the pic­turesque, which was often facetiously expressed by the title of "mud-shops."

The industry as a whole has arrived upon very stable ground. Electrical porcelain is still in its youthful years. Pottery still holds a very definite field of its own in spite of the encroachments of ware of many other materials. The makers of sewer pipe have maintained their field and grown with its expansion and development. Competing materials have failed to equal the "per dollar" service rendered by the pipe of clay.

 

THE END

 

Our local Cub Scout camp, “Camp Butler,” in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is named in honor of the author, H. Karl Butler. A brief biography http://www.gtcbsa.org/manatoc/hkarl.html

 

Also see the history of The Akron Porcelain Co. http://www.akronporcelain.com/cohist.htm Chapter 3. (1920-1929) for more on H. Karl Butler and his family’s involvement in Akron’s ceramic industry.

 

 


 

Graphics, stories, articles and other partial content are all Copyright ©2006-2011 Jeri Holland and other respective authors.