The article "Forty-Nine Years of Enterprise" was written by Lucille T. Cox and appeared in the August 1938 issue of the Pottery, Glass & Brass Salesman. It covers the journey of Sebring brothers in the pottery industry.
The rise of the Sebrings. The name takes the reader on one of the most amazing journeys of adventure and romance the history of the pottery industry has to offer. The trail is a difficult one to follow as it leads through a labyrinth of various ventures, it is, however, an interesting road as the scenes shift rapidly.
There were seven Sebring Brothers, sons of George A. Sebring, a farmer of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, who came to East Liverpool about the year 1854. The first of these brothers was Oliver, who went to work in the Baggott pottery when he was fourteen years of age, driving a blind horse around the "horse ring" which in turn blunged the clay. His pay, for two years, was a dollar a week. in 1873 the lad was taught the trade of a presser and continued in that work for a number of years.
Next in the line of brothers was George, who entered the industry when he was fifteen years old and turned jiggers at the Agner, Foutts & Company pottery for a salary of two dollars a week. He worked his way up through every branch of the pottery industry until he became a foreman at the Knowles, Taylor & Knowles Company.
Ellsworth Sebring and his brother Frank A. were in the grocery business and later together with their brother Joseph completed that now famous quintet of brothers who began the spectacular ascent of the Sebrings.
The November 5, 1887 issue of the East Liverpool Tribune carried this succinct announcement: "The Sebring brothers have purchased the Agner & Foutts pottery at the corner of West Second and Market Streets. These gentlemen are well known and posses a great amount of enterprise and push."
The pottery they purchased had once been a very successful business, but had been forced into bankruptcy in 1882. For five years it had remained idle and was in a grievous state of disrepair. The brothers purchased their first plant for $12,500 and incurred a heavy debt to meet the cost of improvements on the building. This pottery, which marked the beginning of a trail that was destined to meander over many years and miles was aptly named "The Sebring Brothers Pottery Company."
Each brother was in charge of a department and worked at the bench with their employees. The brothers, however, did not draw their pay envelopes regularly was many a Saturday night they went home without their weekly wages. Every cent profit was "ploughed back" into the business to meet their expenses and need for new equipment. In 1888 the value of their output was $8,000, in 1889 it doubled to $16,000 and in 1890 the books were showing an output for $32,000 when tragedy and disaster struck the firm and the plant.
In September of that year Joseph Sebring was tragically killed and on October 22, just before dawn, the kiln shed and decorating department of the factory was gutted by fire. It meant a loss of $15,000 to the four remaining partners. They rebuilt at once and later the two younger brothers, William and Frederick, came into the business.
The trail that runs in a puzzling fashion throughout the story leads to East Palestine, Ohio, in 1893 when the brothers leased the East Palestine Pottery Company for five years on a commission basis. Two years later, in 1895, they received a bonus from this pottery and built their first plant, the Ohio China Company in East Palestine.
The next year the trail comes back to East Liverpool. In the extreme end of the river town was a non-productive farm. It contained one hundred and sixty acres of land. The railroad, river and good road bordered it. One day Frank Sebring approached the owner of the farm.
"Harvey," he told the farmer, "I want to build a pottery up here. I need land. Suppose you deed me eighty acres of your farm and I will plot them out in city lots and have an auction. With the proceeds I will build a pottery and be able to pay you one hundred dollars an acre for the land which will amount to eight thousand dollars."
The farmer, a cautious person, thought the matter over very carefully, then agreed. Mr. Sebring carried his plan to success and the second pottery to be built by the Sebring brothers was erected and known as the French China Company, but popularly called the Klondyke Pottery [due to its remote location]. In less than ten years the brothers had purchased one plant, leased a pottery, and built two. The workmen in the French China Company did what Frenk Sebring hoped they would do. The residential section of the village was too far away from the shop and they built homes on the lots he had laid out. The value of the land increased immediately.
The building of the pottery on the farmer's land was perhaps one of the most significant events in the lives of the Sebring brothers. It caused them to do serious thinking. By the erection of an industry, they saw land valued at one hundred dollars an acre increased in value many times. They also knew that it was not the owner of the plant who profited by the increase in land valuation but the owners of the land. Frank Sebring conceived a daring plan. One that would require courage and initiative. They would buy a number of adjoining farms, erect a pottery, and build a town.
On July 26, 1899, the brothers closed the deal for a number of farms in Mahoning County, Ohio, a few mils south of Alliance and built their third pottery, the Oliver China Company and plotted the town of Sebring. From this point the trail leads the follower from one site to another in a bewildering manner. Within the next few years following the erection of the Oliver China Company, which is now the Royal China Company, four additional potteries were built in Sebring; The Sebring Pottery Company, the French China Company, the Sterling China Company which later became American Limoges, and the Saxon China Company [which would eventually become the French-Saxon China Company]. This brought the total number of potteries purchased and built by the Sebring brothers to eight, one purchased and seven erected, all in a period of twenty years. Each of these potteries employed several hundred men and women. The land, which had been a few years before farming land, was now a thriving community. Back of it could be seen the careful planning, keen business ability, and forethought of Frank A. Sebring and his brothers who were turning their dreams into a practical reality.
The brothers, soon after their arrival in the new village of Sebring, sold all of their plants outside the town. In 1900 their first purchased plant, the Sebring Brothers in East Liverpool, was sold to Sevres China Company. In 1901, The Klondyke Pottery [the original French China Co.], was purchased by the Smith-Phillips China Company. A short time later the Ohio China Company, their first built pottery, became the property of a group of citizens from East Palestine.
The trail that seemed to be settled permanently in Sebring swerved to Minerva, Ohio, in 1904 when Frank Sebring, together with E. J. Owens built the eighth Sebring pottery and it was known as the Owens China Company. [The Owens China Company was later purchased by Cronin China.]
In 1912, Frank Sebring brought Bradshaw China Company at Niles, Ohio, a pottery built by Eugene Bradshaw, the son of one of East Liverpool's earliest potters. This was the second plant purchased by the Sebrings and the tenth one owned by them since they began their career as pottery manufacturers.
This same year the meandering trail of industry went to Florida where George E. Sebring and his son, Orville, began the erection of the town of Sebring. It is located in Highland County, the center of a large area of citrus fruit growing and is one of the most beautiful in the state.
In 1913, the pathway marking the achievements of this unusual family came back to Salem, Ohio, when Frank Sebring and his sons purchased the Salem China Company, the third plant purchased by the Sebring interests and the eleventh owned. The history of the Salem China Co. prior to its being sold to the Sebrings is short. In 1898, six men from East Liverpool erected a pottery in this village and for a number of years they were very successful in the business. Among these men were T. A. McNicol and Cornelius Cronin, two well-known men in the pottery trade.
In 1922, the Sebring brothers sold the Bradshaw China Company in Niles, purchased by them in 1912, and constructed a new pottery in Alliance, which is known as Leigh Potters, Inc. This was the last pottery built by the Sebring brothers and was the ninth built and twelfth owned by them in a period of thirty-five years.
All of the seven brothers are dead, the last one, Frank A. Sebring, died November 23, 1936. The trail, marked by many successful industrial enterprises comes to rest before a bronze replica of a pyrometric cone near the entrance of the Limoges China Company in Sebring. It was unveiled May 31, 1938, by the employees of the Sebring units and many prominent ceramists of the district attended the ceremonies. It bears the following simple inscription: "In grateful memory of Frank A. Sebring by his fellow potters."
It was a remarkable pathway, this one hewn out by the Sebring brothers, for it has involved the erection, ownership, and direction of thirteen potteries, including the leased plant at East Palestine, and two towns. The work, as laid out by these brothers, is being successfully carried on by their children. The oldest Sebring in the pottery industry is Charles L. Sebring, a son of Frank A. Sebring, who is chairman of the Boards of the Sebring Pottery Company, the Salem China Company, and the Limoges China Company. D. S. Albright is the president of the Limoges China Company and the Sebring Pottery Company and Floyd McKee, president of the Salem China Company.
Many examples of the wares made by the East Liverpool potteries in the above article can be seen in Amazing Ware Made in the East Liverpool District by William and Donna Gray. Link: Amazing Ware.