Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers records

Special Collections and Archives

International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers records

You are here

Special Collections and Archives

International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers records

You are here

International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers records, 1889-1971

Finding Aid

Prepared by Lucinda K. Arnold and Jane L. Underwood, May 23, 1980; Revised by Gregory B. Bodwell, May 1997; Revised by Barbara Bass, October 1998
220 record storage boxes, 220 cubic feet, Storage

Old Archives Number: B.3.3.1

This collection is housed in a climate-controlled environment off site and requires at least up to three weeks for retrieval. Please call or email the department with requests for this material prior to planning your visit.

Historical Note

The International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers (IBPAW), commonly referred to by its earlier name, the National/ International Brotherhood of Operative Potters (NBOP/IBOP), is a union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL/CIO). The National Brotherhood of Operative Potters was founded in 1890 when skilled pottery workers and unionists in the vicinity of East Liverpool, Ohio, broke away from the then faltering Knights of Labor. The founders were dissatisfied with the activities of the Knights in their behalf. They were also members of the western faction of pottery workers and resented the dominance of the unionists in the Trenton, New Jersey area. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the pottery industry tended to locate in regions rich in fuel, clay, and water. Two major pottery centers emerged; one at Trenton, New Jersey, and the other at East Liverpool, Ohio. Throughout the Civil War, Trenton's potters dominated the industry. Although unionization of this industry did not develop on a significant scale until the 1880's, these eastern pottery workers had organized to protect their skilled positions as early as 1862.

In seceding from the Knights of Labor and convening their first convention in December of 1890, the Brotherhood's western founders hoped to build in East Liverpool a compact organization for the protection and benefit of all potters' interests. By 1900, Ohio's share in production had grown. Indeed, Ohio controlled 25% of the total production, while New Jersey's share had slipped from 59% to 20%. Under the strong leadership of Albert S. Hughes, Thomas J. Duffy, and Edward Menge, the National Brotherhood of Operative Potters (NBOP) was generally successful in attracting members and in bringing about favorable changes in labor-management relations. Five locals were formed in these early years: Local Union One in Toronto, Ohio; Local Union Two in New Cumberland, West Virginia; Local Union Three in Kittanning, Pennsylvania; Local Union Four in East Liverpool, Ohio; and Local Union Five in Findlay, Ohio. The differences between the eastern and western factions were ultimately resolved. By the beginning of the twentieth century the Brotherhood was truly a national union. It had secured a uniform wage contract and had approximately 6,500 workers on its membership rolls by 1911.

Over the first three decades of this century, the Brotherhood experienced both successes and failures. During the Progressive and World War I years, the union continued to grow and strengthen due to the scarcity of labor and favorable governmental policies. Especially from 1915 to 1918, the flow of foreign-made pottery to this country was considerably reduced which in turn increased the demand for domestic ware. The Wilson administration's particularly lenient attitude toward labor also assured the NBOP of a certain measure of success. Union leaders were able to affect uniform wage agreements in the sanitary and chinaware divisions, as well as obtain higher wages and better working conditions. During the same years, the union also combated the problems of unrestricted apprenticeships, the influx of immigrants, the presence of unskilled workers to operate new machinery, and a well-organized open shop campaign.

After the war, the NBOP suffered many reverses. The national mood, hostile to labor unionism in general, was reflected by the hard-line tactics taken by such groups as the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Potters Association. Their actions resulted in wage decreases. Disastrous strikes in 1921 and 1922 also worked against the relatively new pottery union. Members began disaffiliating from the NBOP and, by the end of the 1920's, the membership had declined to 5,500. Dissatisfied with the administration of the NBOP president John Wood, the union members voted James M. Duffy into office in 1927. Duffy immediately set out to strengthen the Brotherhood and to increase its dwindling membership.

With a lack of jobs and ever increasing wage reductions, the early years of the Depression were bad for the working man in general. Potters were no exception. The advent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal with its favorable wage and hour legislation and support of collective bargaining rights benefited the Brotherhood. Within two years, the NBOP doubled its membership from what it had been in 1932. By America's entry into World War II, the union boasted 19,400 members.

Although there were some successes for the NBOP during the war years, the controls set forth by the War Labor board restricted the union. When these controls were removed at the war's end, a number of strikes occurred. The reactionary mood of the public and the government resulted in the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act. Through these significant changes, the union continued its prosperous trend under the leadership of Duffy. He secured the affiliation of the Canadian local unions in the 1930's and, accordingly, the union changed its name to the International Brotherhood of Operative Potters (IBOP) in 1951. In that same year, Brotherhood membership reached 27,713.

Yet, internal dissention split the ranks of the IBOP. Since the 1930's a bitter relationship had existed between Duffy and first vice-president Edwin Wheatley. Each jealously guarded his own sphere of influence from encroachments by the other. As this lack of compatability influenced the rank-and-file, many thought that a change in command was necessary. At the end of an intense campaign, Frank Hull was elected president in 1953. Hull's administration served as a unifier. Internal conflict diminished during his years in office, while the funds in the treasury increased. Because of ill-health, however, Hull was forced to retire after only three years in office and Edwin L. Wheatley succeeded him in 1956.

The wheatley years, 1956 to 1969, were ones of profound change from the traditional craft-union patterns previously adhered to by the union. Included in some of the reforms and innovations were a revision of the sonstitution, the mergers of locals, an expansion of a full-time executive board, the hiring of supplementary international organizers, and the obtaining of pension and health plans for the workers. Despite strenuous efforts to organize, the Brotherhood membership fell. This fact, in addition to pressures resulting from foreign competition and domestic substitutes, made necessary the expansion of the IBOP not only beyond the purview of the skilled workers but also beyond the confines of the ceramic industry. The International Brotherhood of Operative Potters became a union of applied workers. Following Wheatley's retirement in 1969, the union changed its name to the International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers. By including unskilled, semi-skilled, and non-ceramic groups, union leaders hoped to increase membership and revenues so that better service could be given to its members and so that a stronger bargaining position could be maintained. With membership standing 17,000, Lester H. Null, Sr., became the IBPAW president in August of 1969. In 1975, with an intense organizing campaign and affiliation with the Seafarer's International Union, the enrollment was boosted to well over 35,000 members.

NOTE: For a detailed history of the Brotherhood, see Don A. Shotliff, "The History of the Labor Movement in the American Pottery Industry: The National Brotherhood of Operative Potters--International Brotherhood of Operative Potters, 1890-1970" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1977).

Scope and Content

In 1976, through the efforts and with the assistance of Lester H. Null, Sr., President of the International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers, and George R. Barbaree, Secretary-Treasurer, this collection of records arrived in the Kent State University Archives. The Brotherhood has dedicated both literary and property rights to the Kent State University Archives--American History Research Center.

The materials contained in the International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers' collection are both numerous and varied. The arrangement was influenced primarily by provenance. Before the collection arrived, the Potters had already established a rough system of classification based on either purpose and type of source or form of material. The only series that the Archives created were numbers six and seven below since photographs and memorabilia were placed together, once their respective origins were noted wherever possible.

The first three series are related in that they include materials that directly originated with or were indirectly generated by the International Headquarters of the IBPAW located in East Liverpool, Ohio. The fourth and fifth segments consist of materials created by or received during the course of operations of the various local unions located throughout the United States and Canada. Consistent with the practice at the International Headquarters, these two series represent separate categories for bound and unbound materials. The last six series are categorized according to format of material.

Through the hundred or so years since the formation of the NBOP/IBOP/IBPAW, this country has undergone many changes and witnessed many new developments. The materials contained in the International Brotherhood of Pottery and Allied Workers' collection can assist in tracing these societal changes. These materials offer the researcher an insightful look into the origins of the labor movement in the United States. Not only is the history of the Brotherhood itself revealed in these records, but the collection is also useful in studying certain trends within the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and other union and labor organizations. Particularly noticeable are the progressively improved conditions of the working man and the union members. Such patterns are reflected in this collection's evidence of an increasing proliferation of pension and benefit plans and other contracts which were successfully negotiated at many of the Brotherhood's various conventions or conferences.

This collection may also provide evidence of larger societal trends beyond the labor movement, since a labor union is an organization embedded within, and interacting with, that larger society. The astute researcher may glean significant insights into the Progressive years, the domestic front during the two world wars, and the Depression and New Deal Era. Moreover, specific topics such as women's history, the development of the rights of minority and ethnic groups, and the activities of the unions in the McCarthy Era may also be examined. Minutes, correspondence, and agreements are generally useful items. Other topics, such as the impact that Japanese imports had upon the domestic pottery industry, may be illuminated by careful scrutiny of financial records such as the Dun and Bradstreet credit ratings for various potteries.

All materials retained for this collection are valuable in one way or another; the researcher should not dismiss any section lightly. However, upon examining the final IBPAW inventory, the researcher may find it necessary to consult more than one segment of the collection in order to gain a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the area of study. For example, researchers interested in the operations of the International Headquarters certainly should not neglect the conventions and conferences, the AFL/CIO, or the local union segments of the collection. Similarly, the researcher interested in the functioning of the local unions must also consult other segments of the collection, particularly those from the International Headquarters. The researcher must also be aware of the fact that, in some cases, similar materials may be found in both the bound and unbound local union segments. For example, minutes of meetings may be found in both places. They have not been placed together because of the form of the material. Although each section may offer more information on a particular topic than another, the cautious researcher should examine the inventory completely. Even the photograph, memorabilia, and newspaper sections should not be neglected for possible source material on their chosen topics.