When Johann George Pfaltzgraff and his wife, Helwig Elenora, boarded a ship bound for America in May 1833, he brought with him the same hopes most immigrants held before making that long journey.
In America, he sought the freedom to establish his own pottery business—an opportunity that had eluded him in Germany, where he'd been well trained, but lacked the required Master's license. So with the encouragement of relatives already settled there, the couple set sail and landed in America four months later to make a home in Baltimore, MD.
One relative in particular, a George Pfaltzgraff, is cited as being the main proponent of this move. Falsgraff lived in Connaught Township, York County, PA, where he ran his own pottery, producing traditional German ceramics out of the plentiful red clay found in the area. Although Johann George was just three years old when Falsgraff's pottery was established in 1811, this date is considered to be the beginning of the company's history.
By 1835, Johann George and his small family had moved to Conewago Township. Not much is known about the interaction between Johann George Pfaltzgraff and George Falsgraff, but just like Falsgraff, Johann George also owned a 21-acre farm and a small pottery where he produced utilitarian, farm-ready vessels, such as crocks, jugs and jars for food storage and preservation.
In 1839, Johann moved his family to the urban community of Freystown, where he set farming aside to focus on his pottery business and real estate ventures. Perhaps tired of city life, Johann pulled up stakes again in 1848 to move to Foustown, PA. There, he had access to public highways, extensive farmlands, red clay deposits and timber, which enabled him to expand his pottery business and develop more efficient production methods.
The 1870 manufacturer's census reported that Pfaltzgraff & Son Pottery, which most likely included his third son, Henry B., produced $1,000 worth of pottery, employing just two men and three turning wheels powered by horses and men.
On January 7, 1873, Johann George Pfaltzgraff died. Of the Pfaltzgraffs' 10 children, it would be their three eldest sons, John B., George B. and Henry B., who'd carry on the family's legacy.
Other notable dates:
- 1808 - Johann George Pfaltzgraff born in Germany on May 5.
- 1835 - John B. Pfaltzgraff born in Conewago Township on October 14.
- 1837 - George B. Pfaltzgraff born on September 29.
- 1854 - Henry B. Pfaltzgraff born on May 13.
In the September after their father's death, John B. and George B. sold the Pfaltzgraff properties, which included a mansion and more than 100 acres of land. In the 20 years that Johann George had owned this property, its value had quadrupled.
After the sale of the Pfaltzgraff estate, each of the three eldest Pfaltzgraff sons advanced the family pottery business in his own way.
John B., the eldest Pfaltzgraff son, shared his father's devotion to salt-glazed red clay pottery, but his surviving wares are noted for their one-of-a-kind nature, bearing charmingly whimsical hand-painted illustrations.
While no wares that solely bear his mark exist today, George B., as trained by his father, would spend the majority of his adult life owning and operating potteries. He's credited as being the driving force behind the formation and continuation of the Pfaltzgraff pottery.
Meanwhile, the young Henry B., after working in red ware throughout his adolescent apprenticeship, bucked tradition in his early 20s and switched to stoneware. By 1886, he'd employed four potters to work exclusively in this medium. The uniform quality of the shapes and hand-painted illustrations on Henry B.'s surviving wares hint at the advent of mass production.
In 1889, brothers Henry B. and George B. combined forces, forming the H.B. & G.B. Pfaltzgraff Company, and set up shop in York, PA. This partnership ushered the transition of Pfaltzgraff pottery from farm to factory production.
In 1894, George B.'s son, George Washington Pfaltzgraff, a bookkeeper and office manager, joined the pottery business. The new organization was then renamed The Pfaltzgraff Stoneware Co.
One year later, production moved to a new, three-story pottery plant, strategically located next to the Western Maryland Railroad line, at the intersection of Lincoln and Belvidere Streets. This location offered the pottery a competitive advantage, allowing for swifter and wider distribution as demand for its wares increased.
In another strategic move, the growing company—a major producer of liquor jugs—entered into a mutually beneficial partnership with liquor distributor and hotel owner Edwin T. Moul, who became the company's new director in 1896. As the 20th Century began, the reorganized company was now The Pfaltzgraff Stoneware Co., Ltd.
Following George B.'s death in 1902 and Henry B.'s withdrawal from the business, it was up to George W. and Edwin Moul to keep the kiln fires burning.
Unfortunately, it was a fire that almost put an end to the Pfaltzgraff Stoneware Co. On January 1, 1906, the Belvidere plant was destroyed in a blaze that the family suspected was set by a disgruntled former employee.
Necessitated by the fire and subsequent significant financial losses, George W. and Moul quickly regrouped and established "The Pfaltzgraff Pottery Company" in a new location. The plant opened in August 1906 and still stands in West York, between the Pennsylvania and Western Maryland railroad lines.
As the country approached WWI, Pfaltzgraff Pottery responded to consumer demand and started manufacturing red clay flower pots. Where other potters failed during these years, Pfaltzgraff survived largely because of this shift in thinking.
In 1920, when Prohibition began (ending the company's business with liquor distributors, but not enterprising home-brewers) to 1927, flower pots became the company's mainstay. In 1931, the York factory was churning out 1 million pots a month.
Also in 1931, again in response to cultural trends as well as a desire to stay nimble during the Great Depression, Pfaltzgraff began its Art Pottery period, which lasted six years. During this dramatic departure from traditional German ceramics, the company produced colorfully glazed designs, such as glossy black seals balancing balls on their noses, Oriental tea jugs and art deco vases and boudoir lamps.
In 1936, Pottery Hill, Pfaltzgraff's first retail outlet, opened in York, PA, under the supervision of George W., who, after the 1935 sale of the company to son-in-law Louis J. Appell, had withdrawn from daily operations.
As for Pfaltzgraff Pottery, the company may have survived to see the other side of the Depression, but it wasn't out of the woods yet.
Other notable dates:
- 1907 - Edwin J. Moul dies.
- 1918 - George W. buys out the Moul family and assumes full control of the company.
- 1940 - The Gourmet line debuts.
The start of WWII in 1942 ended flower pot production for Pfaltzgraff, as the company shifted its focus to products that supported the war effort.
For the next few years, the company slogged through hard times, suffering financial losses until 1946, when Louis J. Appell, Jr., the great-great-grandson of Johann George Pfaltzgraff, came on as General Manager.
Throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the company introduced many new designs and patterns.
Gourmet, the first line to include dinnerware and what would become the backbone of today's Pfaltzgraff product offering, debuted in 1950. And, in 1964, the company dropped the "pottery" to become, simply, The Pfaltzgraff Company—hinting at plans for more than ceramic production.
And then in 1948, the business outlook brightened, with the company seeing a profit for the first time in seven years. The recovery was attributed to streamlined processes and product innovations implemented by Louis J. Appell, Jr.
By the 1970s, Pfaltzgraff dinnerware and accessories were being distributed to major department stores across the country, a move that helped cement the brand as a household name.
To meet an ever-increasing demand, Pfaltzgraff opened the new Thomasville, PA, manufacturing plant in 1978. Its expanded facilities and capabilities married old-world tradition craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology.
Other notable dates:
- 1950 - Gourmet Royale, the first line to include dinnerware, is introduced and becomes the backbone of today's Pfaltzgraff product offering.
- 1951 - Louis J. Appell, Sr., dies on June 23.
- 1956 - George W. Pfaltzgraff dies.
- 1961 - The Country Casual line debuts.
- 1963 - The Heritage line, still popular today for its clean lines, debuts.
- 1976 - The Village line was introduced.
As the 1980s began, foreign imports threatened the prominence of the Pfaltzgraff Company in the pottery market. To beat the competition, the company took note of lessons learned in the past, and once again diversified its product line and implemented industry-revolutionizing new technologies, such as CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software in 1985.
Pfaltzgraff also targeted burgeoning markets, such as the wedding registry industry, and delivered new dinnerware patterns—Heirloom, Aura, Yorktowne and Wyndham, among others—that brides loved.
1988 brought another innovation for the pottery business, when Pfaltzgraff entered the world of bone china, becoming the first and only true manufacture of these wares in the United States.
In May 1989, an effort to trace the origins of Pfaltzgraff pottery was underway. Extensive research of historical records and an archaeological dig at the Freystown, PA, site of Johann George Pfaltzgraff's second pottery unearthed answers and suggest that the early American potter worked exclusively in redware—never stoneware, like his progeny.
Indeed, this once-humble pottery operation had come a long way since Johann George first set foot on Pennsylvania soil in 1835.
Throughout the 1990s, Pfaltzgraff continued to keep up the pace in the tabletop dinnerware business, innovating and designing new product lines while expanding into new markets.
Building on its strong mail-order catalog business, which launched in 1985, Pfaltzgraff brought its product offering to online customers in 1999 with the introduction of its first website. The brand's entry into e-commerce enabled casual customers and serious collectors alike to easily access Pfaltzgraff's classic designs as well as new favorites.
In 2005, the Pfaltzgraff company was acquired by Lifetime Brands, a company that got its own start in 1945 as the Lifetime Cutlery Corp. Today, Lifetime is a leading designer, developer and marketer of home products by some of America's best-known and most-respected brands, including Farberware®, KitchenAid®, Cuisinart®, Calvin Klein® and a host of others.
To celebrate the Pfaltzgraff Bicentennial, Lifetime reissued 10 designs that recall the heritage of this enduring American brand. The last offering in the Bicentennial Series is the George Washington Miniature Crock, a replica of a full-sized crock produced in 1932 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth.
In its own 200th year, Pfaltzgraff continues to be a top name in ceramic housewares. And the community of Pfaltzgraff collectors—active since the introduction of art pottery and giftware in the 1940s and '50s—continue to connect with the brand's designs. Some collector favorites include the Folk Art, Village, Yorktowne, Heritage and Tea Rose collections. Join the Pfaltzgraff collectors' community on Facebook and share photos and stories about your own favorites.
Many things have changed since the company's founding in 1811, but Pfaltzgraff's dedication to its customers and commitment to the highest quality products have been unwavering. Lifetime is proud to be a part of this ongoing story of American craftsmanship.