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Carr China: 'The Ware that Stands the Knocks'

James Carr and Whiteware Pottery in the United States

In 1844, when he was just 24, James Carr came to America from England with roughly seventy-five cents in his pocket. He found employment with a Jersey City pottery where he remained for eight years, mastering the trade and making contact with other men who ultimately became important and of note in establishing the pottery industry in America. Known as one of its founding fathers, he was one of the first to manufacture whiteware china in the United States.

James Carr eventually opened his own pottery – a three-kiln plant – on 13th street in New York City. In 1878, he exhibited some of his finer wares at the Paris Exposition.

Carr's son, Thomas J. Carr, studied and learned the pottery trade from his father and eventually became the general manager of the Warwick Potteries in East Liverpool, Ohio, which in the early 1900s has been called the center of the ceramic industry in America.

In 1908, Edith Carr (one of Thomas J. Carr's two daughters) married Wheeler H. Bachmann, who would later serve as president of the Carr China Company. Thomas J. Carr's other daughter Elizabeth Carr, married Jess Wheat Speidel, Sr. Eventually the three families would come together to form the Carr China Company.

In 1911, Edith Carr Bachman gave birth to her only son, Wheeler Carr Bachman, who by the age of 26 in 1937, served as secretary/treasurer of the Carr China Company. Years later he would serve as the final president of the company.

The Carr China plant, circa 1934, shows what looks like eight kilns, though the West Virginia Encyclopedia says it had seven. Other photo references also show eight.

This is the back of the plant, showing how close it was to the Tygart River (again, with eight kiln stacks). Also visible on either side of the underbrush are large china dumping areas.

Downtown Grafton in the early 20th century showing the B&O Railroad station and to its right, the Willard Hotel.  Look for the Andrews Methodist Church, the birthplace of Mother’s Day on May 10, 1908, left of center.

Above, the Tygart River Dam, immortalized on so many Carr China plates commemorating the opening of the dam. The Carr site was about a mile down river and around a bend from the dam.

In 1939, the Carr China Company filed a claim with the U.S. Government to recover what it estimated to be $48,143 in damages (approximately $891,000 in 2019 dollars) that resulted during the construction of the Tygart River Dam by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

During the dam's construction, after each pouring of concrete of about 8 feet in height, the top surface was washed down with high pressure water hoses to get a clean and textured surface in order for the next pouring to achieve a good joint there. This high pressure washing caused loose portions of cement and lime to be washed off the concrete and into coffer dams. From the coffer dams it was pumped out into the river beyond the dam, very near the intake pipe for the City of Grafton water supply, which was used by Carr China. This saturation of lime in the water resulted in significant glazing problems on Carr China ware.

Near of end of 1935 and thereafter, complaints were received as to the quality of the ware, and upon investigation it was determined that the ware's glazing was badly defective. Further studies showed that this was the direct result of the chemical content of water used in the manufacture of the ware. "Different ceramic engineers recognized as expert authorities were separately brought to the plant to ascertain the cause of the trouble and to correct it, if possible, and it was absolutely agreed by these various experts that the chemical composition of the water supplied from the Tygarts Valley River was the direct cause of the damage to this company's product."

Carr's records showed that for the years 1935 and 1936, damaged ware resulted in a loss of 37,320 dozens at an average sale price of $1.29 per dozen.

Eventually this lawsuit became U.S. House Resolution 5625, in support of the Carr China Company claim. After various revisions it became HR 2931, but was returned "with a veto message" by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1941. Ultimately, no financial remedy was made to the plant for the damage.

To read the report cobbled together from Google books' scanning of the procedures, click here.

It is interesting to look back at this period in Carr's history that at the same time they were enduring the massive loss of glazed ware as a result of the dam's construction, they were also making thousands of beautifully made dam plates (and far fewer compotes) as giveaways for the dam's dedication in 1936.

The dam was one of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal projects, and on Oct. 1, 1936, FDR traveled by train to Grafton to give a short speech touting the success of the dam. We haven't been able to find the date of the dedication, but it was in October 1936 so we're assuming FDR's trip coincided with the dedication.

A 1935 patent for a tunnel kiln, probably similar to the one installed at the Carr plant. For more information, see http://www.freepatentsonline.com/1988837.html.

The Carr China Designers

William Frey
William Frey, born around 1904, according to the 1940 census, was son of W. J. Frey, one of the early managers of the plant. It is not known what patterns he designed, but he worked with expanding the plant's color lines to make it more visually appealing and profitable.

George William Staton
George William Staton or G. W. Staton, as he signed his work was born in England around 1884 and apprenticed with Wedgewood in Staffordshire for a number of years before immigrating to the United States in the early 1920s with his wife, Mary, and their family. According to one of his granddaughters, Susan Meehan of Harrisburg, Penn., they settled in upstate New York where his first job in America was believed to be with Onondaga Pottery, which later became Syracuse China.

Staton family photo courtesy of Susan Meehan
Staton family photo courtesy of Susan Meehan

After some time the family moved to Grafton, where Staton was an engraver/designer with Carr China Company for many years. According to a note left by Joy Bachman on one of his sample plates (#56),  Staton “did beautiful work.”

Examples of his engraving can be seen in the Tygart Dam plates of 1936, the Andrews Methodist Church Mother’s Day plate, and the Philippi Covered Bridge plate of 1952. These dates also give us some indication of the long career he had with Carr. If you look at the backs of these particular plates you will see the monogram of his initials that he surreptitiously included within the designs, supposedly because Carr management frowned on designers’ signing their work.

Recently, we have learned from Susan Meehan that Staton also designed the following patterns: Bucking Bronco, Edith, and possibly Princess.

Staton died in Grafton on July 1, 1971, at the age of 87. His wife Mary died the following year on October 6, 1972.

Paul C. Mattson
Paul C. Mattson worked for Carr China from 1934 to 1937. His work is more completely documented on this site, thanks to the collection of his plates shared with us by his daughter, Judy Reed, and photographed by Bill Montgomery. Click here to learn more about Mattson.

In 1916, Thomas Carr, who was president of the Warwick Pottery Co. in Wheeling, W.V., was selected by members of the Bachmann, Speidel and Carr families to manage and oversee the pottery in Grafton, which had been built on the bank of the Tygart River in 1913 as the Consolidated Manufactories Company.

The plant was located in the Park View section of Grafton and was known locally simply as “the pottery.”

The plant (estimated to have been between 75,000 and 108,000 square feet) was built of brick, contained seven kilns and was designed to employ as many as 250 local workers as a part of an economic development project for Grafton. Consolidated Manufactories went bankrupt early in 1916, but this set the stage for what would be the Carr China Company later in the year.

Under Thomas Carr’s leadership, Carr China made vitrified china for hotels, restaurants, institutions, clubs, hospitals, steamships and the military. Its thick, rolled edge china was available in both banquet white and decorated, with underglaze line treatments, prints, crests, monograms, decals and custom designs.

After Thomas Carr’s retirement in 1923, Charles Metzner moved to Grafton from Wheeling to become the plant manager. Under his management the Carr China Company prospered. When Metzner passed away after a brief illness, W. J. Frey succeeded him and was manager for many years.

In its early days, Carr was known for the “clearness of the whiteness” in its wares. The plant used some locally-quarried clay, but most of the materials used in production were brought in from considerable distances. Quartz flints were hauled in from sources in New England, sand flints from the Berkley Springs region of eastern West Virginia, and “sagger clays” and feldspars from as far away as Florida. (A private rail siding ran directly next to the plant, necessary both for bringing supplies in and shipping them out.)

W. J. Frey’s son William became one of the Carr China Company’s most proficient designers and was instrumental in developing color applications for the china that made the products much more attractive and appealing.

In a 1934 sales catalog the company stated, “It has been our constant aim to please the trade and we trust that our efforts will be rewarded by generous and continued orders from our customers.” Over the years, hundreds of patterns were developed for the restaurant ware trade including the popular “Onion,” “RhoDendra” and “Blue Willow” designs. In addition, a very successful tan-bodied china called Glo-Tan was manufactured in a large variety of designs and patterns.

The company had a motto for its products, “The Ware That Stands The Knocks,” and based on the excellent condition of pieces that collectors have been able to find and document, the motto was apt.

A 1937 article in The Grafton News warned that the continued operation of the Carr China Company’s Park View plant was dependent on a citizens meeting to discuss the organization of an efficient and active Board of Trade, which would assist the company in modernizing the plant at a cost of approximately $65,000.

Of this amount, Carr China would contribute $35,000, and $30,000 was to come from the community as well. The article stated that “it appears inevitable that if the community does not find it possible or expedient to join with the owners in the rehabilitation effort, the Industry will be taken elsewhere” since there were at least two offers on file with the directors to move the plant.

According to the owners, the plant needed rehabilitation with modern tunnel-type kilns in order to speed up production. Quick delivery is a necessity in the ceramic industry and Carr China was reported to have lost orders because it could not handle “spot” business.

An undated news article – probably from The Grafton News – gives the details of the installation of a continuous tunnel kiln at the Carr plant by Swindell-Dressler Corp. of Pittsburgh, so it is assumed that the residents came through with the $30,000 requested for plant updates. A photo above shows a patent drawing from one of Swindell-Dressler’s tunnel kilns.

Competition from Japan and other low wage countries contributed to the decline of the pottery industry in America. However, in 1952, Wheeler Bachman, who was the owner of the plant, shut down the factory without any help from outside competitors. The story goes that he learned that plant employees would be meeting to discuss the possibility of organizing a union and in a fit of rage closed the business.

In another version of the plant's closing, according to "Images of America: Taylor County": "After World War II, plastic ware gained popularity in markets previously served by Carr China. Efforts to diversify failed and the pottery closed on July 16, 1952."

In Barbara Conroy’s “Restaurant China Volume 2,” she quoted a Claude Hawks, who visited the plant several years later: There was “unfinished product all over the place; lines of benches, where artists worked … their brushes still in the glasses … dried up jars of ink and paint … transfer patterns all over. In the room where the kilns were, the carts were loaded just like they were going to be pushed in an hour or so … so tragic.”

Although the folklore surrounding Carr China’s closure hinges on talk of the employees meeting to unionize, it is interesting to note that a Dec. 7, 1922, article in The Grafton News says that at least some of the employees were already members of the National Potters Union, which had ordered a strike that had closed the plant for some amount of time.

The article goes on to state that “immediate resumption of work at the Carr China Company plant” will start when local potters return to work directly and “those dependent upon their products for work in other parts of the plant will be taken back as quickly as the plant can be opened.” In addition, it says that “resumption of work at the local plant will mean the employment of about 200 persons who either went out on strike or were forced to suspend work when the union potters quit on October 1.”

In July 1966, the abandoned plant burned and the site became an attractive nuisance for vagrants and children. Eventually the remains were bulldozed, except for the floor and one remaining portion of a wall. The rubble was left and the site became a dumping area for some local residents.

>> Page 2 History: A Brief History of Grafton


Most of the preceding information was gleaned from the following sources:
An article written by James R. Mitchell on the history of Carr China for the website, e-WV (The West Virginia Encyclopedia);
* * An undated article written by Charles Carpenter (Carpenter’s Column), “Carr China’s Days of Eminence,” provided by the Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society;
* * An article in The Grafton News titled “Future of Carr China Depends Upon Community Interest, Activity,” dated Jan. 29, 1937; and
* * “Restaurant China Volume 2” by Barbara Conroy.



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