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Lincoln Highway: West Virginia December 2, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Yes, there is a connection between the Lincoln Highway and Fiestaware

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

The Lincoln Highway crosses West Virginia in just four miles, barely grazing the tip of the northern panhandle. This is where West Virginia squeezes in tight between the Ohio River and the western boundary of Pennsylvania, a gritty area known for Pittsburgh-seam coal and the Weirton Steel Corporation.

I will blog about Weirton Steel in another post and tell the remarkable story of a company whose employees took over in 1982 when parent National Steel announced it would no longer invest in the mill.  It was the largest ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) yet attempted, and against all odds, the company defied the Rust Belt trend and operates successfully today.

When the Lincoln Highway Association laid out its route in 1913, the 3,389 miles did not include West Virginia at all. The original route ran well north of the panhandle, passing through East Palestine, Ohio. A 1915 reroute sent the Highway through East Liverpool, Ohio—staying on the north side of the Ohio River to squeak past WV without touching it.  It wasn’t until 1927 that the highway was rerouted to cross into WV at Chester.

Municipal building, Chester, WV

From 1927 to 1970, the Highway crossed the Ohio on the 1897 Chester Bridge. In 1970, that bridge was demolished and the Highway—US Route 30—used a nearby bridge at Newell, WV. Since 1977, US 30 has crossed the river via a new bridge at Chester, the Jennings Randolph bridge.

Those seven years in Newell enable us to make the Fiestaware connection. The famous line of dinnerware is made at Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell. Introduced in 1936, Fiestaware was the first mass-promoted dinnerware in the U.S. It enjoyed great success until WWII, when products not related to the war effort generally declined.

Fiesta went through ups and downs after the war, going out of production entirely from 1973 to 1985. Following its reintroduction, buyers have prized it for its cheerful colors and its adaptable design. It has the magical property that a dining table set with Fiesta can happily belong to either a country cottage interior or a sleek modernistic look.

Before WWII, Fiesta was produced in six colors: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Old Ivory, and Turquoise. The Red had a detectable amount of uranium oxide in its glaze. With plans for the A-bomb on the drawing board, the U.S. government took control of uranium reserves and confiscated Homer Laughlin’s stocks. Lacking its necessary supply, the company discontinued the Red in 1944.

The radiation level of the vintage red glaze is said to be so low that an individual would experience more harm from a single X-ray than from eating off vintage red Fiestaware every day for a prolonged period. A nonradioactive red has long since replaced the earlier glaze.

East Liverpool across the river is also famed for its pottery industry. We will visit East Liverpool in our next installment.

"Pratt truss" design used in the 1977 Jennings Randolph Bridge connecting Chester WV and East Liverpool OH