The Nelson McCoy Pottery Production During the World War II Years

By Dewayne Imsand

World War II was the most widespread war in history, and it eventually involved the participation of over 50 countries. It placed these countries in a state of total war, and erased the distinction between civil and military resources. This resulted in the complete activation of a nation’s economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities for the purposes of the war effort.

The war began in Europe September 1939. Thereafter a great debate began in the United States between the isolationists and the interventionists. The isolationists wanted the country to stay out of the war at almost any cost, and the interventionists wanted the United States to do all in its power to aid the Allies. Eventually the United States shifted its policy from neutrality to preparedness. It began to expand its armed forces, build defense plants, and to give the Allies aid of all types short of war.

The dramatic attack on United States’ naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 ended the debate over America’s entrance into the war. The following day the United States entered World War II.

Soon the United States established a War Production Board. As discussed in an April 2007 Journal article on the economic conditions during this period, the basic goal of the Board was to convert and expand the peacetime economy to maximum wartime production. The Board directed all production activities, as well as the procurement of materials, and the assignment of delivery priorities of scarce materials. Additionally, the Board prohibited non-essential industrial activities an d industrial production.

Actions of the Board adversely affected the Nelson McCoy Pottery and other potteries across the country. One significant impact was the rationing of natural gas, which the McCoy pottery used, along with many other potteries, to fire their kilns. In addition, many other things industry needed were also rationed, such as gasoline and other fuel types, and tires, to name a few things. Even clay was in short supply.

An analysis of the McCoy pottery production during the war years shows that there were some dramatic changes. The following Table gives a series of production statistics for the years 1941 to 1946. There are no data for 1943.

The number of different pieces, including all the different sizes that the pottery produced in 1941 was high, and it is obvious the effects of the war were not yet felt. In 1942 however, the number of different pieces that pottery offered for sale was dramatically lower, and it amounted to only 31 percent of the previous year. There was a much lower production throughout all of the war years, until it ended in the spring of 1945. Pottery production significantly increased in 1946, after the resumption of peacetime activities.

The number of pieces produced in 1941 with an old style design (pieces first produced in prior years) was 134, and there were 57 pieces produced with a new style design. Apparently, the old style pieces selected were those that had previously sold well. The adoption of previous designs resulted in a savings to the pottery. It saved material, effort, and time, by the avoidance of new die and mold preparation, and other startup work.

The number of different style pieces produced by the pottery remained low until 1946, when a total of 144 pieces were produced, of those 118 were old style pieces, and 26 were new styles. The diversity of items the pottery produced reached all time low in 1944 when only three new style pieces, first introduced in 1943 or 1944, were produced.

Beginning in 1942, besides the reduction in the overall number of pieces produced, and the reduction in the number of new designs offered, the pottery began the production of miniatures, small flower holders, and flower bowl ornaments, referred to together herein as novelties. These small pieces consumed much less resources than the larger size pieces, and aided the work at the pottery to continue during this difficult time. As shown in the Table above, the novelties amounted to only 8 percent of the total number of pieces produced in 1941. However, in 1942, the percentage of novelties rose to 22 percent. There are no data for 1943, but in 1944, the novelty production was still high at 21 percent. Although there were no novelties produced after 1944, a total of only 38 different pieces were produced in 1945, the lowest amount of any year.
Many industries and support businesses were either sharply oriented to defense production, or completely dependent on it. The McCoy pottery was directly involved in the war effort through the production military goods. The pottery secured a contract to produce land mine casings for the military. The exact date of this wartime contract is unknown. In addition, the size of the contract, or how much of the production capability of the pottery it occupied, is unknown. It is possible that the full efforts of the pottery were required, and if so, that may explain why no pottery production data exists for 1943.

The following is a list of the new items introduced by the Nelson McCoy Pottery during each of the war years. Also included are the sizes, and where available, the colors in which each piece was initially produced. Style numbers, along with a picture of the pieces, may be found in Sanford’s Guide to McCoy Pottery.

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