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History of the Uhl Pottery Company

by Mrs. Hannah Uhl Switzer

In 1929, clay was the third most valuable mineral resource of Indiana. Only coal and ore exceeded it. In 1931 there were 101 plants in Indiana engaged in solely the manufacture of clay products. Only nine plants manufactured pottery, ranging from sanitary and domestic white ware to electrical insulators and earthenware. The rest of them (92) produce heavy clay products such as brick, tile, pipe, wall capings, etc.

The major portion of the clay industry has developed within the past 30 years. Not over 40 years ago the underclays of coal bearing areas were considered a detriment to the mining of coal. However, much is now being made into valuable products all over the State of Indiana. The three principal factors to be considered in the manufacture of raw materials are: (1) Accessibility to the raw materials. (2) Fuel costs. (3) Transportation facilities. The most important thing is to be near the raw materials, particularly now, when so much of the shipping is done by trucks.

In the coal belt of Indiana are three ceramic centers. One of these centers is the southwestern tip along the Ohio River. The principal cities are Cannelton, Tell City, Evansville and Huntingburg, all located on the Ohio River except Huntingburg. The Evansville-Huntingburg area is the most diversified in the state in regard to finished products. There are a number of plants manufacturing the clay products in this district. One of these plants is here in Huntingburg – the Huntingburg Brick Co. There are fewer of the plants in which pottery is manufactured. In Evansville sanitary ware and dinner ware are made. In Huntingburg we have the manufacture of earthenware by the Uhl Pottery Co.

We could dwell at length upon the clay resources of Indiana. However, let us bring it down to the clay deposits at Huntingburg. The potter’s clay that is found here and is used by the pottery is of the finest quality. The Huntingburg Brick Co. has found the clay just as satisfactory for the manufacturing of bricks. Laboratory test show that the underclay used by these two companies is fine in plasticity, in molding quality and has a strong cadesian quality.

In the making of Uhl pottery nothing is added to the clay. It needs only to have the courier sands and other foreign matters removed. The under clay beneath the Marshall coal furnished the raw material for the earthenware. The Uhl Pottery Co. is not the only one that has used it, but potters in New Albany, Louisville and other points along the Ohio used it. A section of one of the clay pits here shows the following strata:

1. Soil – 1 ½ ft. Red Loam 5. Minshall Coal – 12 ft. – Overburden – n30 - 75 ft.
2. Sandy shale – 15 ft. Yellow 6. Light gray underclay – fine texture – 5 ft.
3. Bluefish gray shale – 15 ft. 7. Dark Gray – underclay, sandy, granular, and contains a high percentage of colitic
4. Mineshall Limestone – 2 ft. grains of iron carbonate – 2 ft. plus.

The Uhl Pottery used the sixth stratum of light gray, which of course makes it necessary to mine deeply for the clay. The present mine used by the pottery now is located just southwest of Huntingburg. It slopes many feet underground. The clay, after it is dug is handed to the surface by little cars, drawn by small mule. It is then hauled to the plant in dump trucks. Here it is dumped in outside bins where it is allowed to “breathe” for 90 days. After this it goes through a refining process and, without the addition of any ingredients is used in the making of high-grade earthenware.

The name Uhl has been connected with the pottery industry for the past century – perhaps longer. At Lisberg. Germany August and Louis Uhl worked in their father’s pottery where the chief article of production was roofing tile – made by hand. In 1848 August and his brother Louis (who were mere boys) decided to seek their fortunes in the land of opportunity, America. It was decided the elder brother August should go first and determine whether their trade could be established over here and to look for a suitable location. After landing in New York he went to Pittsburgh and took a boat, coming west on the Ohio River. The boat made may stops and August took advantage of these stops by examining the particles of clay that were showing along the banks of the river. He finally decided to stop at Evansville, Indiana for here he found a clay that had the necessary plasticity for the making of pottery.

After experimenting for a while he wrote to his brother Louis, and told him to join him. When Louis arrived they established a small pottery at a site, which is now in the heart of Evansville, Ninth and Sycamore Streets. The name of the firm was A. & L. Uhl. August managed the business end of the industry, while Louis made the wares – which then consisted of jugs, jars, garden vases and stone pumps.

Their business prospered from the start. However, the clay was an inferior clay to that which makes high grade ware and they were forced to sustain losses because of it. Therefore, it was decided that they hunt elsewhere for the proper clay. Having heard of a good fire clay near Huntingburg, Louis Uhl went there and brought samples of the clay from a spot close to the hill, now known as Stand Pipe Hill. After it was tested at the plant in Evansville it was immediately decided that this was the clay they wanted and needed in order to produce good wares. The clay was taken out in wagons and hauled to Rockport, Indiana. Here it was shoveled into hogsheads and taken to Evansville on flat boats, where it was again loaded onto drays and hauled to the Pottery, and there it was dumped into the clay cellar.

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