One of the premier pottery companies in the United States before the Civil War was the American Pottery Manufacturing Company, which made the first molded pottery in America. The pottery company's origins may be traced to the Jersey Glass Works (later P.C. Dummer & Company) founded by George and Phineas C. Dummer in 1824. A year later, the Dummer brothers founded the Jersey Porcelain and Earthenware Company; it was adjacent to the Jersey Glass Company.
According to Arthur W. Clement of the Newark Museum, “The honor of first commercially producing porcelain in this country must be given to the Jersey Porcelain and Earthenware Company of Jersey City. . . .” (12). Workers from England, Ireland, and France were hired by William W. Shirley to manufacture Staffordshire earthenware and porcelain in Jersey City. In 1826, Dummer porcelain received a silver medal at an exhibition of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for the "best china from American materials" (qtd. in Clement 114). However, it was soon found that the American raw materials for pottery production, such as the soil from Paulus Hook, did not measure up to the standards of the craftsmen or the imported English ceramics at the time.
In 1828 David Henderson, with his brother Joseph, bought the Jersey Porcelain & Earthenware Company and named the company D & J Henderson; he incorporated and renamed it the American Pottery Manufacturing Company in 1833. John V. B. Varick, Robert Gilchrist, and J. Dickinson Miller of Jersey City, among others, were commissioners appointed to solicit stock options. New Jersey art historian Barbara J. Mitnick credits Henderson for making New Jersey "a leading center for pottery production" (74).
Henderson, who was born in Scotland around 1793, gained a reputation in the United States for introducing molded pottery making in the United States from England. The company produced refined white earthenware, brown-glazed stone ware, and yellow earthenware from this process. It reduced the cost of fine pottery to consumers but replaced the exclusive use of the skilled potters. Henderson also introduced mass production into the making of pottery without sacrificing quality. According to Margaret E. White in The Decorative Arts of Early New Jersey, This new method, borrowed from England, made possible the casting of stoneware, rockingham, and yellow ware pieces in mold, instead of shaping each piece by hand on the potter’s wheel. Casting in mold not only speeded production but also made possible the relief decoration so popular during the Victorian era in both ceramics and glass” (White 38-39).
Henderson was also responsible for the process of transfer printing on earthenware or printing a design from a paper pattern. Prime examples of this process were a blue copy of the (John) Ridgeway Canova pattern plate and the hexagonal pitcher with a portrait of William Henry Harrison during the presidential candidate's 1840 campaign. Another is a hexagonal pitcher depicting the landing of Major General Marquis de Lafayette of the Revolutionary War at Castle Garden in Battery Park, produced in 1843.
The American Pottery Company, as it was called, became known for training workers drawn from across the nation and starting the careers of several English-trained potters in the United States. Among them are ceramic modeler Daniel Greatbach, whose pottery may be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and glassblower William Ridgeway, who made fireproof baking dishes, bowl, and pitchers; among the others are James Bennett, William Bloor, and James Carr.
As Henderson’s master mold designer, Greatbach designed many fine collectible pieces of molded pottery for American Pottery between 1838 and 1848. His notable designs were for teapots, creamers, and sugars in white glazed stoneware and the first American rockingham hound-handle pitcher executed about 1840. Several pieces, as seen on this website, are in the Jersey City Museum collection.
The quality and design of the pottery produced at American Pottery places Henderson in the league of other famous American potters such as William Ellis Tucker and Christian Webber Fenton. White records that "His work received a silver medal at an exhibition by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1830 and the American Institute In New York that same year for new designs of earthenware pitchers, bowl, etc” (qtd. In White 38). The future of the Pottery Company, however, was affected by Henderson's death, when he was killed in a shooting accident in the Adirondack Mountains in 1845. For experts in the craft of pottery, the American Pottery Company and Henderson established “the cradle of the pottery industry in the United States” (qtd. In White 40).
In the 1850s, Henderson's American Pottery Company was renamed The Jersey City Pottery. English potters John Rouse and Nathaniel Turner bought the company to work their craft in the United States. The business started to fail in the 1860s with the Civil War; after the sale of the property in 1892, the buildings were razed.
According to local historian Joan D. Lovero, both the Dummer brothers and David Henderson became "the earliest local example of corporate philanthropy" (34). Recognizing that their workers were mostly Roman Catholic and could only attend religious services by traveling to New York City, they helped finance the start of the first Catholic congregation in Jersey City. The workers used the facilities of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church for a time until the construction of St. Peter's R.C. Church on Grand Street in 1837.
Henderson Street was named after David Henderson who, besides founding the American Pottery Company, was the general manager of the Adirondack Iron Company in 1838. The latter company, under Joseph Dixon, became the Adirondack Steel Manufacturing Company in 1864. Henderson Street was renamed "Luis Munoz Marin Boulevard" in 1982. Known as the "Father of Modern Puerto Rico," Marin was Puerto Rico's first elected governor in 1949 and the architect of Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth of the United States.
Clement, Arthur W. The Pottery and Porcelain of New Jersey, 1688-1900: An Exhibition, April 8 - May 11, 1947. Newark, NJ: Newark Museum.
"Death of George Dummer." New York Times 24 February 1853.
"Jersey City: Shaping American Pottery Industry." Jersey City Museum Newsletter. Fall 1997.
Lovero, Joan Doherty. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Mitnick, Barbara J. "Picturing Revolutionary New Jersey: The Arts." In Barbara J. Mitnick, ed. New Jersey in the American
Revolution. New Brunswick, NJ: Rivergate Books, 2005.
Pepper, Adeline. The Glass Gaffers of New Jersey. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.
White, Margaret E. The Decorative Arts of Early New Jersey. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1964.