Pacific Clay Products formed as the result of a series of mergers of several Southern California commercial pipe and tile companies in the late 1800s, the earliest founded in 1886. By 1910 additional merger activity resulted in an entity called Pacific Sewer Pipe Company. The company changed their name to Pacific Clay Products Company in 1921. In 1923, a new holding company, The Pacific Clay Products, Inc., led by Los Angeles industrialist William Lacy, was formed, and in 1926 the company went public.
At the time of the stock offering, Pacific’s product lineup consisted of vitrified sewer pipe, electric conduit tile, water pipe, face enamel brick, firebrick, terra cotta, flue lining, stoneware, and drain tile to support the Southern California building boom of the 1920s. When the housing market collapsed in the late 1920s, Pacific reported a considerable slowdown in industrial production. Looking to diversify, they began producing stoneware specialty ware to supplement their architectural business. Early offerings included an assortment of kitchen and servingware in addition to some gardenware pieces. Servingware lines included an assortment of bowls, pitchers, mugs, and other household items.
By 1930, many of Pacific’s plants operated far below capacity. During this time, Pacific retooled their Lincoln Heights plant (located at 306 West Avenue 26, Los Angeles) to focus on architectural terracotta and garden pottery production. With the economy in freefall, Pacific manufactured only intermittently by 1931. The board of directors intended to keep the plants in operation as much as they could, “chiefly as a contribution to the efforts begin made to cope with the local unemployment situation.” Throughout the Depression, Pacific made continuous investments in research and development, looking for new and better products as well as improvements in automation and efficiency. While commercial pottery and tile production continued to decline, production increased as a result of consumer demand. They introduced a new artware line in 1931.
Even with diversification, business declined dramatically with the plants operating at 12% of capacity by 1932. William Lacy, suffering from a nervous breakdown “induced in part of despondency over business conditions and the plight of the unemployed,” committed suicide at age 67 in April of that year. Family members reported that he had been ill for more than a month and “had been depressed as a result of the constant association with unemployed men whom he sought to help.” The directors of the company elected John D. Fredericks, former Congressman and vice-president of the company, to fill the vacancy. Pacific continued to ramp up their consumer pottery production with the launch of the Hostessware dinnerware line. They also significantly expanded their artware lines. By 1934, the new lines performed well enough that Pacific could make capital improvements in their plants to keep up with demand.
For the first time in five years, Pacific turned a profit in 1935. The company started to see more work coming in through increased industrial activity and government projects. As the company took on more government work in support of the war effort, they disbanded the pottery division in 1942. Longer term, this turned out to be a smart move. Unlike most of their competitors of the period, Pacific Clay Products still exists today.
A Completist’s Guide to Pacific Pottery Hostessware
Want to learn more about Pacific Pottery? Informal is a complete as-we-know it guide to Pacific Pottery and their iconic Hostessware dinnerware line. Meticulously researched and compiled by one of the top Pacific collectors, Informal is an illustrated guide to all of the known Hostessware pieces — including decorated lines — with visuals, designs, and photographs.