Tour guide Sheila Blatchford, who’s been at the job for eight years and really knows her stuff, assembled our group of 10 and herded us into the factory for an hour-long tour.
"We’ll be walking about a mile and a half and up 18 steps," said Blatchford by way of introduction.
Along the way, we got to see the workers up close, the kilns from a short distance, most everything seemingly operating just as it has for decades. A jolt of modernization came when we were introduced to a computerized operation and a robotics section, which contrasted sharply with manual operations that include workers who still apply decals to certain pieces by hand and handles on as many as 1,500 to 2,000 cups each day.
Passing one massive kiln, Blatchford said it holds as many as 1,020 plates that would be fired at 2190 degrees for four hours. Further on, we learned that the Eisamenn kiln was for glazes that were heated even higher to 2300 degrees and kept there for eight hours. I could only imagine the factory’s annual fuel bill.
Homer Laughlin first introduced Fiesta ware to the public at the Pittsburgh China and Glass Show. The product was an immediate hit, so much so that, by the second year of production, the company turned out an excess of one million pieces. At its peak in 1948, more than 3,000 employees produced more than 10 million pieces. Currently, the factory employs a total of between 900 and 1,000 workers assigned to one of three shifts.
The tours end with a look inside the Homer Laughlin Museum that displays items from the company’s 140 years of history. Be sure to check out the raspberry colored bowl set aside in a special case. It represented Fiesta at the1939 World’s Fair in New York. Another celebrity item is the 500 millionth piece of Fiesta ware produced by the company. Naturally, it gets a place of prominence in the museum, which, by the way, is open to tour-takers only.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.