Former TS&T employee shares memories

EAST LIVERPOOL – Now just a vacant lot in Chester, the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery was once an economic engine that typified America’s manufacturing prowess in the 20th century, a former executive said Friday.

“We had our own airplane. We had our own chain of retail stores. The company was very successful,” said David Conley, former general manager of TS&T’s retail division.

Conley’s talk at the Museum of Ceramics was part of the 2013 Ohio Valley China Collectors’ Convention being held in East Liverpool. It was preceded Friday morning by a presentation on TS&T’s popular Lu-Ray dinnerware line.

Conley said TS&T was so successful in its production of affordable dinnerware that it was exceeded only by the Homer Laughlin China Co., where he eventually became director of retail sales and marketing. In its heyday, TS&T was known for attractive, economical china that it sold through department stores and, later, supermarket chains such as Giant Eagle, Publix and Winn-Dixie.

Conley, who oversaw TS&T’s own chain of retail stores, said he remembers grocery store clerks wearing pins that read, “9 cents / Ask me.” The promotion enabled customers who bought more than $20 in groceries to buy a piece of TS&T dinnerware for 9 cents.

“If you shopped there every week, by the end of the year you’d have an entire dinnerware set,” he said.

Founded in 1899 by John N. Taylor, Joseph Lee and Charles A. Smith, TS&T started out as Taylor, Lee & Smith. Smith’s brother, William L. Smith, also was an early investor, Conley said.

The Chester company began production in 1900 and was reorganized twice in its early history. It became TS&T in 1901 after Lee left the company and John Taylor brought his sons William and Homer on as managing partners, Conley said.

Conley said his research of TS&T’s history was aided by the archives of the now-defunct U.S. Potters Association, of which William Smith was an active member and which had its national headquarters in East Liverpool.

The 1920s was a period of major changes in the U.S. pottery industry, Conley said, and TS&T kept pace or led the way. At a time when there were still 60 potteries in the USPA, TS&T switched from bottle kilns to continuous firing tunnel kilns in 1927, he said.

“Any of the plants that could afford to, converted their plants to the tunnel kilns,” Conley said.

In 1938, TS&T introduced its popular Lu-Ray line, with an array of pastel colors, and its brightly-colored Vistosa line, its answer to Homer Laughlin’s Fiesta dinnerware.

Conley joined TS&T as a “22-year-old kid” in 1964 after being recruited by Chairman of the Board Ed Morse. By that time, there were only 12 potteries left in the USPA. He stayed on for 18 years, including the nine years that TS&T was owned by glassware manufacturer Anchor Hocking.

The last years of TS&T were hard years, Conley said, in part because Anchor Hocking was an absentee owner with a penchant for letting people go.

“Anchor Hocking got rid of all the sales people and turned it over to their glass sales people, who didn’t know anything about pottery,” he said. “I’d rather work for the people who live right here.”

TS&T closed in 1981, and, for 30 years, the plant sat vacant on the shores of the Ohio River. In 2011, the property was bought by the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, and in 2012, all the buildings were demolished. The property currently is being marketed for economic development purposes.

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