The Salem China Co., once located at the end of S. Broadway Ave. beyond Euclid St., was established in 1898 by William Smith, Thomas McNicol and Daniel Cronin. Patrick McNicol, who operated the East Liverpool Potteries, is credited with making the decision to build a plant in Salem. Originally, the firm made heavy hotel ware, the unbreakable kind. In August of 1918, the firm was sold to F. A. Sebring. Frank H. Sebring became president, and F. W. McKee, general manager.
Millions of pieces of different styles and kinds of china were made every year by this firm. Approximately 520 patterns in 50 different shapes were produced by the company in its 80-plus years of existence. Its colored glaze ware, known as “Yukon Yellow” and sold largely in tea and breakfast sets, was a Salem original. Other popular patterns were called Aquaria, Gloucester, Tepee and Comstock.
Decorating of the ware was done largely by women, although there were some expert male decorators. They all used the hand process mainly, except for the use of decal transfers for more elaborate patterns. In 1937 the company put into operation a continuous decorating kiln, capable of decorating about twice the number of pieces previously being produced. An interesting historical fact is that the pottery acquired the old Y&O Railroad property adjoining the main plant. The freight station was revamped to serve as a warehouse, and a kiln was moved into the Y&O sub-station.
Salem China was a leader in the pottery industry for many years. It grew to become Salem’s fifth largest employer, with 500 workers. Most of its output in the 1920s was marketed directly to dealers throughout the country. Forty salesmen traveled from coast to coast. This nation-wide coverage enabled the firm to run full tilt during the Great Depression, never missing a payroll. Sears, Roebuck & Co. was one of its best customers.
As early as 1901, Mothers’ Oats was including a piece of Salem China dinnerware in each box. Housewives could go to redemption centers and buy a different piece each week, eventually collecting a whole set. The company promoted its products in many different ways – in drugstores, furniture stores, groceries, banks and theaters. Drugstores offered coupon and punch-card plans. The housewife paid $2.98 for a 32-piece set of dinnerware that cost the store $2.72. Furniture stores gave away a free set of dishes with each dining room or bedroom suite purchased. Grocery stores tried coupons, punch-cards and giveaways with the purchase of certain amounts of groceries.
The Golden Pleasant pattern dinnerware was introduced by Salem China in 1929, and it dominated theatre giveaways for some time. At “Bank Night,” a free dinner plate in this pattern was offered for every admission. The Salem China Co. played a unique and important role in Salem’s history, having had positive effects on the lives of many people.
The two patterns pictured were their most popular during the 1960’s. Upper picture pattern Pink Hop Scotch. Lower picture pattern North Star