In 1901, the New Castle China Company was organized. That year, New Castle purchased the plant of the New Castle Shovel Works, a brick structure 275 ft. long and 80 ft. wide and a handle factory 87 ft. long and 32 ft. wide in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. To the exhisting shovel works, New Castle added an extension 40 by 80 ft. This was the nucleus of the china company. New buildings and kilns were added.
The New Castle China Company manufactured vitreous hotel ware and dinnerware for private homes and operations continued for nearly four years. In 1901, the Shenango China Company was incorporated and a plant was built on the north side of Emery street. Employing approximately 150 people, the Shenago China made semi-vitreous hotel ware and dinnerware.
By 1905, Shenango China was experiencing financial difficulty and a receiver was appointed. A new organization was effected and a charter was taken out under the name of Shenango Pottery Company. Again, difficulties arose. In 1909, an entirely new group headed by James N. Smith took over the property. Originally, a co-owner in a hardware store, Smith was a novice in the pottery business. However, under his direction, Shenango Pottery began to grow. Consequently, Smith has been considered the founder of the company.
By 1912, Shenango China purchased the New Castle Pottery plant. In March of the following year, the new plant was ready to open, but due to a flood, the opening was delayed until May. Once open, the plant remained in continuous operation until December 1991.
From 1909 until 1935, the entire production of Shenango Pottery was devoted to commercial china (hotels, restaurants, and institutions). In 1928, Shenango built the first tunnel kiln and began to fire hotel china for the first time in this country. Shenango also ran porcelain trials researching a vitrified fine china dinnerware product. During the Great Depression, Shenango abandoned this idea.
In 1936, Theodore Haviland was seeking an American company to make the famous Haviland dinnerware. He were so impressed with the quality of Shenango, a "gentleman's" agreement was made with Smith. From 1936 to 1958, Shenango Pottery Company made china for the Theodore Haviland Company of France using their formula, blocks cases, decals, etc. This ware was trademarked "Theodore Haviland, New York. Made in America."
In 1939, Louis L. Helleman, an American representative for Rosenthal China of Germany, came to Shenango and arranged to have Rosenthal's shapes and patterns made at Shenango. Smith invested $25,000 of Shenango's money in this company. This became the well-known dinnerware - Castleton China.
Castleton China was incorporated under the laws of the state of New York on May 5, 1940. Helleman held the majority of the stock. While Shenango Pottery held stock, was represented on the board, and manufactured the ware, sales were guided by Helleman. In August 1951, Shenango Pottery Company purchased the outstanding stock of Castleton.
Shenango China's Later Years
During the late 1930's, Smith became convinced that America would soon be in the war. He began building three bisque 70 foot tunnel kilns and one 10 foot kiln. Delayed steel shipments caused the kilns to be raised under circus tents. Wartime created difficulties: young skilled workers went off to war and other employees went to work in defense industries.
At the end of the World War II, it became apparent that a balanced expansion would have to be achieved. The government ware made during the war was one fire, plain white ware or with little decoration. In the post-war economy, there was a large demand for dinnerware and overglaze hotelware. A building plan for an additional 150,000 square feet for decoration and a 60,000 square foot building with a 200' tunnel kiln for a new refractories division was initiated in 1945 and completed in 1947.
In 1954, the company changed its name to Shenango China, Inc., bringing it back to the original 1901 name. Effort was made to mechanize and Shenango developed the first fast fire kiln, which revolutionized the vitrified china industry. For the first time Shenango had a kiln that would fire glost ware within one hour and ten minutes. Previously firing had taken up to 40 hours.
In 1958, a suit brought by the minority stockholders suit was settled. The resolution resulted in the trustees of the Smith estate selling their controlling interest in Shenango China to Sobiloff Brothers. By 1959, after all of the shares had been sold to Sobiloff, the assets of Shenango China were transferred to a newly formed subsidiary--Shenango Ceramics, Inc. Under the ownership of Sobiloff, Shenango purchased Wallace China on the West Coast and Mayer China in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
In 1968, Interpace Corporation bought Shenango Ceramics and her wholly-owned subsidiaries. Interpace already manufactured Franciscan (earthenware) and fine china. Under the management of Interpace, the plant was expanded and modernized. A complete cup system, new bisque kilns and decorating kilns were built. They also introduced the "Valiela" decorating process, which greatly reduced the cost of print. Eleven years later, in 1979 Interpace sold the Shenango plant to Anchor Hocking Corporation of Lancaster, Ohio. Anchor Hocking continued to modernize, installing computerized body batch making, new clay forming, decorating, and firing equipment.
In 1987, Anchor Hocking sold Shenango China to the Newell Company of Freeport, Illinois. Six months later, Newell sold the plant to Canadian Pacific, the parent company of Syracuse China. Syracuse closed the plant and reorganized.
In 1989, Canadian Pacific decided to divest itself of its china manufacturers, selling Shenango, Mayer, and Syracuse to the Pfaltzgraff Company of York, Pennsylvania. The Mayer operation was moved to the Shenango plant. Plans were made for further expansion, but the economic downturn and changes in demand resulted in consolidation and the eventual closing of the Shenango plant.