Trenton Makes Sanitary Earthenware No More…
Trenton Makes Sanitary Earthenware No More…
Former Industrial Building of the Sanitary Earthenware Specialty Co.
1150 Southard Street, Trenton, New Jersey
Leading in the industrial arena of sanitary earthenware and porcelain products in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Trenton, New Jersey was once home to 41 pottery manufacturerswith roughly 258 kilns by 1903. This had grown from 23/110 in 1883, 19/57 in 1879, 12 potteries in 1874, and a whopping one in 1852. At the turn of the 20th century, production included china, C.C. ware, white granite ware, sanitary ware (bathtubs, lavatories, etc.), belleek, and electrical porcelain.
According to the Brick and Clay Record, Volumes 6 and 7, the Sanitary Earthenware & Specialty Company, “a new concern,” had completed its new four story factory by 1897, which was listed in Fitzgerald’s Directory of Trenton and Mercer County by its 1900 publication as being located at “Southard n May.” However, incorporation of the company and plans for the building took place as early as 1895.
The founding president was Thomas Swetman along with John T. Moore, the Secretary, and Arthur Plantier, the Treasurer. In 1900, Swetman, then a 49 English immigrant, his Irish wife Ellen, and their two children. One son, Herbert Swetman, then 27, was a pottery selector still living in his father’s house at 21 Ewing Street–an upper middle class neighborhood now largely demolished for modern residential construction.
Moore, the first secretary, was a native of Canada, where he learned the pottery trade as an apprentice. By 1897, Moore had a principal interest in the Sanitary Earthenware Specialty Co., which would latter descend to his son–William Augusta Moore (1890-?), porcelain manufacturer and inventor. In 1900, despite Moore’s success, he remained in his modest row house with his French Canadian wife and their eight children at 48 Lincoln Avenue. The other counterpart, Arthur Plantier, while listed as treasurer was recorded as a “sanitary presser,” living with his wife and child in an apartment house at 505 Perry Street (still extant).
The first few years were spent experimenting with the manufactureof products, but also included general production. In fact, in 1898, operations were in full swing and the first began experimenting in vitreous lavatories. This was the first company to adopt the English method of web construction in lavatories. And, by 1900, defects had be largely surmounted and the vitreous lavatory was successfully produced. This continued to be one of he primary products through the 1910s. By 1922, Moore’s son had become a leader in the company, along with Plantier.
Eventually, the company’s configuration and name was changed in the early 1920s. While we are not precisely sure of when and why, it is probable that this change came from various union related issues, including the Strike of 1922. Strikes related to salary increase began in 1918 with the sanitary pottery workers, which ended with a two year contract during which time a “hefty” 25 percent increase in salary would be granted. In 1920 another 10 percent increase was given. However, between 1920 and 1922 western pottery manufacturers had become competitive and Trenton profits were down. Manufacturers requested a 25 percent reduction in wages, among other “strict” regulations to bring down costs. Despite efforts the manufacturers could not come to an agreement with the unions and, eventually, the long complicated problem led to a Federal indictment of the manufacturers on August 8, 1922. A shift in government had led to a lack of commitment to labor/capitol agreements from an earlier period. The small, family-owned potteries of Trenton could no longer pursue a strategy of harmony between labor and capitol. This led to lower costs, meaning lower wages, less workers and increased production. Finally, after an even greater period of legal battles, the association was found guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and the heads of each firm were sentenced–Arthur Plantier included. We believe the name changed to the “Sanitary Porcelain Company” around this time as this was a time of great change and reconfiguration given the previously mentioned need to lower costs and increase efficiency.
According to Carol Hill, an employee and local preservationist, after 1948, the buildings use changed dramatically:
“The history and ultimate closing of Sanitary Porcelain Products is unclear. In 1948, Louis Driber and Kenneth VanAken, founders of Trenton Printing, moved into the building and later purchased it for their growing business.
According to the Trenton City Directories, Chadwick China was produced at the site for only one year in 1946 although, Crockery and Glass Journal Directory listed Chadwick China in 1945 & 1946. Touted in their brochure as “a distinguished line of fine American china”, it featured decorative accessories such as vases, candy dishes and cigarette boxes, and it has become a rare collectible to pottery aficionados. The pink glazed, covered candy dish, recently purchased on eBay, was donated to the Trenton City Museum for their permanent collection.”
We thank her for providing this information.
The building is now a product of reuse, continuing to host at least one known local business–Trenton Printing. While we are happy about the reuse of this building, we are sad to see that the earthenware/porcelain/pottery industry has disappeared from Trenton, along with much of its other industry, leaving a built context primarily reduced to a mere shard of what it was in the early twentieth century. Now is a Trenton of blighted buildings and slums abound with state government as the last hope and/or saving grace.