A long time ago…
amongst the bluffs west of the Mississippi River just above Lake Pepin, the Dakotah spent their summers hunting and fishing. French Voyageurs first visited in 1680. Nearly 200 years later, the first European settlers came to live beside the mighty river. They were greeted by one of the greatest chiefs of the Dakotah Nation. He gave his friendship to the settlers, and his name to their settlement – Red Wing.
The land around Red Wing was rich with clay. In 1861 a German immigrant named John Paul discovered a rich pocket of clay on the land that he intended to farm. A potter by trade, he used this clay to make the first Red Wing stoneware.
After Paul came Philleo Pottery, established in the heart of Red Wing in 1868, followed by Hallem Pottery. Both went out of business – the former destroyed by fire, the latter by the drastic price cutting of established eastern competitors. It was in 1877 that the
Red Wing Stoneware Company,
forerunner of today’s famous Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery was established.
The company supplied farmers with stoneware crocks and jugs for food and beverage storage. As our young country grew and the Industrial Revolution took people off the farms and brought them together in towns and cities, health concerns prompted the development of sewer systems. The Red Wing Sewer Pipe Company met the great need for ceramic sewer pipes. Two other companies were formed just before the turn of the century, Northstar Stoneware and Minnesota Stoneware. By 1906 one company had gone out of business and the other three companies combined as the
Red Wing Union Stoneware Company.
With changing times, and especially the invention of the refrigerator, the old stoneware crocks and jugs were no longer needed. In 1913 the first refrigerators were invented for home use, although the cost was out of the reach of most people (one 1922 refrigerator cost $714, compared to $450 for a Model-T Ford).
At this point, Red Wing Union Stoneware Company began producing flower pots and vases, then luncheon and dinnerware, and a wide variety of art pottery. In 1936 the name was changed to
Red Wing Potteries.
Artistic hand painting was added to the popular solid colors in a colorful variety of beautiful patterns and designs. Red Wing was, in fact, the only independent pottery maker in the country that continued this age-old art of hand painting on dinnerware, casual china and art pottery. Their designs gave the products a creative flair, an individualized touch that captured a unique market – quality informal ware – which is characteristically American. Although we had been making dishes for a long time, American potteries usually borrowed English craftsmen and so our products were English in temperament. But in the late twenties we began to evolve a native kind of design and our dinnerware developed a personality of its own in both design and decoration. This is the informal flavor and style in which Red Wing Potteries was a leader. American homemakers loved it, with more than 100 hand decorated patterns being made, and as many as a million pieces produced each year.
By 1967 less expensive dishes were being imported in great numbers by American companies. Combined with a union strike, this spelled the end of production for Red Wing Potteries. R. Gillmer (the last president of Red Wing Potteries) purchased the company from the other shareholders during liquidation and operated it as a retail business. The name was changed again, to
Red Wing Pottery.
The next chapter in this story was written in 1984, when the technical records were acquired by J. Falconer and the
Red Wing Stoneware Company
In 1996 Red Wing Pottery hired potters to again hand throw clay pots, and salt glaze fire them, and so there were then two companies making pottery in Red Wing.
By the end of 2013, Red Wing Pottery was considering closure. The owners of Red Wing Stoneware (who had just purchased it a few weeks before) decided to bring both operations back together by also purchasing Red Wing Pottery. The new company,
Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery
currently operates north of town on the east side of highway 61, where large scale production is taking place. All of the pottery we produce is lead free, microwave and dishwasher safe. There is a retail store where all merchandise is on display and you can watch all phases of the making of high quality pottery and even take a factory tour to see firsthand how its done.