“Porcelain enameling is the process of fusing a thin layer of glass to a metal object to prevent corrosion and to enhance its beauty. The base item is low carbon sheet iron formed in the shape of a utensil by pressing or drawing by spinning and by trimming. Handles spouts and ears are welded or riveted in place. The base item is cleaned by pickling in acid. A coating mixture of ground glass, clay and water is applied and dried. The ware is then fired in a furnace.”
Other names for this cook ware are granite ware, agate ware, glazed ware, granite steel ware, enamel ware and speckle ware.
Types of cooking utensils that were covered with this glaze were endless. Typical pieces were kettles, teapots, roasters, pots, pans, utensils, plates,cups, bowls, wash basins, pitchers and chamber pots. There were also butter churns, rolling pins, high chair trays, table tops, and toy cooking sets. Porcelain enamelware’s use was extended to stoves, iceboxes and sinks.
After World War II houses were constructed of enameled panels to provide affordable housing for returning veterans. When researching the origins of this versatile product, we can’t help but look at major phases in this modernization of domestic implements and equipment. The United States went through a traditional phase of development from our first settlement up to the midnineteenth century. During this phase many household items were hand crafted.
These items were crafted by traditional methods in use for many years. Many of these methods were based on those used in the craftsman’s homeland.It was during this period that we find the earliest record of enameled iron in the 1803 Encyclopedia Britannia. In 1779, the Society for Emulation in Paris, France offered scientist and inventors a prize for a substitute for copper, tin, led or glazed pottery cook ware. A scientist with the Royal Academy of Stockholm, Sven Rinman experimented at this time with enameling copper and hammered iron. Over the years, he preformed several experiments with problems experienced with adhering the glass to the metal. . There is no mention if Rinman won the prize. The English Cyclopedia, after explaining Rinman’s experiments, briefly states that a Dr. Hinkling received a patent in 1799 for two enameling methods of kitchen utensils. Limited manufacture of cook ware was made under this patent and then given up. We know no further information on this patent or it’s holder.
Charles and Thomas Clarke in 1839 applied for a patent on enameling. The Clarke’s patent was quite detailed and they felt they had the process cornered. The courts in England felt otherwise and found that the formulas for enameling were numerous and allowed others to use the process. In the mid nineteenth century and especially in the 1850’s the United States entered a transitional phase of development. It was during this phase that there was a great increase in experimentation and inventions. Many home devices were introduced that later became standard used items in many homes. Many inventions that were developed for industrial use were later applied to home use. During this period American industries began to specialize as for example, the Tinware industry.
It was on July 25, 1848 in New York, that Charles Stiemers applied for the first American Patent on Improvements in Enamels for Iron. There were several patents in the 1850’s for bonding enamel on cast iron. George W. Holly submitted a patent in 1857 for Improvement in Enameling Cast Iron. Several experimental methods of application and casting were tried during this period.
The mid 1860’s began the industrial phase in America. This period continued until World War I. It was during this phase that household devices were being machine made. New materials were introduced such as rubber, plastics, aluminum, wire and enamelware. This phase introduced systems to the home such as plumbing and heating.
George A. Burrough entered a patent on May 30, 1871 for enameling such items as pipes and fittings, letters fro signs, submerged pumps and numbers or figures for identifying houses or streets. Many inventors or early industrialists imported enameling technology from European factories to use for American domestic purposes. It was during this industrial phase that porcelain enamel ware was introduced to the American market. The St. Louis Stamping Company produced a cook book dated June 9, 1874 illustrating and listing uses of granite ware. Although the earliest patent by this company’s founders, Frederick G. and William F. Niedringhaus wasn’t recorded until May 30, 1876.
The Niedringhaus brothers, Vollrath and Lalance & Grosjean were the early patent holders for porcelain enamel ware. They became the three largest manufacturers. In 1876, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, porcelain enamel ware was introduced to the United States. In 1877 porcelain enamel ware was mass produced and flooded the American market. Most of the early porcelain enamel ware was a matted gray color. This was the early etching method of manufacture. It was not until the 1880’2 that the two and three step methods of enameling were introduced provided us with bright cobalt blues and red with white speckles or swirls.
Even though porcelain enamel ware was being manufactured in Europe earlier than 1877, it was not found in this country in any measurable quantities. The upper and middle class used porcelain china and iron side table settings. The price of the imported items were prohibitive to working class Americans. Nineteenth Century Immigrant guides tell us that those arriving in this country were charged twice the worth of goods brought with them on the ship. Because of these costs, they were very selective as to items they brought over with them.
Because of the blockade of the Southern Ports by the U.S. Navy, those persons portraying the citizens of the Confederate States of America would have had even less of a chance of obtaining European imports of this product. AND, excavation of military sites and military collections show no evidence of Porcelain enamel ware used by the military of either army. A quote from Alison Brown, President of the National Graniteware Society sums it up: “Graniteware was actually first patented around 1847, but major production did not occur until the 1880’s. Many movies with Civil War themes will include the large gray coffee boilers, and other utilitarian items as they ‘look good’, although they typically date post Civil War.”
If our purpose as living historians is to recreate the average or the norm of the period, not extreme examples, then we should not be using porcelain enamel ware. Porcelain enamel ware is therefore inappropriate for use for those participating in living history programs in time periods before 1877.