Trenton burst forth as the premier pottery-producing center of the Eastern United States in the second half of the 19th century, the city skyline soon being dominated by the smokestacks of pottery kilns. Trenton's location as a transportation hub was key to the development of large-scale pottery manufacture in the city. Making use of the canals and railroads, clay and coal could be easily brought in to the factories and finished products could be conveniently shipped out. Potters from other American cities and England converged on Trenton to join companies producing new and high quality ceramic products for the rapidly expanding domestic market.
The first industrial potteries in the city - the works of James Taylor and Henry Speeler, the City Pottery, William Young & Sons' Excelsior Pottery, all established in the 1850s - produced mostly yellowwares and whitewares for household use. In the 1860s and 1870s, many of Trenton's largest and best-known potteries came into being - the Eturia Pottery of Ott & Brewer, Coxon & Company's Pottery, John Maddock & Sons Coalport Works and the Mercer Pottery - still mostly producing white tableware and hotel china, but of increasingly high quality. The 1880s and early 1890s saw diversification into other products, most notably sanitary earthenware, electrical porcelain and porcelain hardware, but an important specialty in porcelain sculpture and art pottery also emerged. It was during this period that the Ceramic Art Company, the predecessor of Lenox, Inc, was founded.
Although the industry was beset by labor disputes in the 1890s, it continued to grow apace, reaching close to 50 factories and over 5,000 employees by around 1910. Several changes in ownership and mergers took place in the 1920s, especially in the sanitary earthenware business, where the Crane Company and the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company (the predecessor of American Standard) came to prominence. Decline set in with the Depression and by the end of World War II less than 20 potteries were still in operation. Today, only a handful of ceramic manufacturing facilities survive, but Trenton china and sanitary earthenware abounds in households and museums across the country.
Links to learn more - Trenton City Museum (Ellarslie) in Cadwalader Park, Trenton; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; Hill-Fulper-Stangl Museum, Flemington