A Centennial History of Akron 1825-1925
Summit County Historical Society, Akron, Ohio 1925, p 303-312
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Also see the history of The Akron
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.