East Liverpool is the Pottery Capital of the US. It’s been the capital since the 1880s. Sarah Webster Vodrey is the Director of the East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics. She showed me around the museum.
"Doorknobs, inkwells, pie pans - it was very utilitarian n at first and then as time when on people were able to combine utility with beauty. And even from the very start, the human impulse is to make it attractive," says Vodrey.
Hundreds of potteries operated here. There are a couple of reasons why . The first is transportation. It’s right on the Ohio River and when the potteries started in the mid 1800s the thousands of settlers moving west needed things that were made out of pottery
"There was a guy named James Bennett who came from Staffordshire in 1839. We give him credit for being the father of our pottery industry because he was the first English trained potter to come to East Liverpool," says Vodrey.
One reason East Liverpool is the Crockery capital is the natural abundance of clay. It drew immigrant potters here.
"He wrote to his brothers in Darbyshire and Staffordshire and they came. They wrote back to other potters and said come here. Come give this a try," says Vodrey.
Betsey Chetwynd is descended from a long line of English potters. As is everyone out else in this community. She grew up in East Liverpool and worked at Hall China, one of the last potteries in East Liverpool.
"95% of the people here are from England. And from the same part of England which is amazing. Stoke. Everyone is from Stoke. And people from Stoke come to visit and they say, “I just feel like I haven’t left home.” The mannerisms are the same, the streets are the same, the names are the same," says Chetwynd.
Many of the potteries here were family owned and operated.
"In the early years it was a husband and wife and a few kids," says Vodrey.
"Other than there is mechanization the ware is made pretty much the same way," says Chetwynd.
"It went from Ma and Pop operations and got bigger until when the jigger machine came along in the 1870s. When that machine was introduced into the whole process it moved it into the realm of mass production," says Vodrey.
Pottery making became a part of the community in other ways.
"We had Potter’s Bank and Trust, we have the East Liverpool Potters. Every single sports team coming out of East Liverpool school system has the word Potter in it," says Vodrey.
Pottery even influenced the official town game.
"We made more doorknobs here than anywhere else in the county. Ceramic doorknobs were a big thing here…. There are going to be ones that don’t come out well," says Vodrey.
But the East Liverpuglians found use for them
"Eventually somebody figured out. Hey, a doorknob is like a ball, let’s make a game out of this. So now we have a doorknob tossing game .
Doorknob tossing, the official game of East Liverpool is played annually in June at their Pottery festival. The Museum of Ceramics is open year round," says Vodrey.
Download this tour and explore it on your own. Just visit SeeOhioFirst.org and click on The New Ohio Guide. The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.