Skip to main content

Bartley Crucible and Refractories, Inc. records

1909-1986
 Collection
Accession: 1973

Abstract

Bartley Crucible & Refractories, Inc. manufactured graphite crucibles in a plant at 67 Oxford Street in Trenton, New Jersey, a major center for the pottery industry. The company was originally named the Jonathan Bartley Crucible Company and was incorporated on February 24, 1908. This collection consists of the business records of the firm throughout its various name changes and the personal papers of two owners: Lewis H. Lawton (1876-1953), a former master bricklayer, and Walter L. Shearer (1900-1984), a ceramic engineer who had been a consultant to Bartley since 1930. None of the records are complete. The business records and the Shearer papers and ephemera represent selections of much larger bodies of material, while the Lawton papers are an accidentally preserved sample from the plant. Substantive correspondence has been sifted from a large mass of orders, bills, and receipts. A sample of more routine correspondence has been saved to give an accurate picture of each firm's trading relationships. The Shearer materials have been sampled to present a picture of his education, personality, and social life.

Dates

  • 1909-1986

Creator

Extent

10 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Bartley Crucible & Refractories, Inc. manufactured graphite crucibles in a plant at 67 Oxford Street in Trenton, New Jersey, a major center for the pottery industry. The company was originally named the Jonathan Bartley Crucible Company and was incorporated on February 24, 1908.

Lewis H. Lawton (1876-1953), a former master bricklayer, and a practical operating man, took over the plant management in 1911. In August 1917, he developed "Lawtonite," a new patented refractory of superior quality, and the firm was able to secure a large share of the crucible market. Crucibles are used in all metal melting and casting, as well as in laboratory work. The market was shared among a dozen or so specialized firms. Bartley sold crucibles all across the country and around the world.

Bartley was profitable and enjoyed a good reputation until 1926. By then, some of the founders had died, and their heirs took less interest in the business and began to withdraw capital. Competitors had improved the quality of their crucibles and cut into Bartley's market share. After quarreling with the owners, Lawton determined to buy them out in 1929. Lawton changed the name of the company to the Bartley Crucible & Refractories Company in 1930. Unfortunately, the stock market crash occurred while the transaction was in progress. Though Lawton did acquire the company, the Depression dried up markets, and local banks refused to honor their commitments to loan working capital. After failing to obtain an RFC loan, the firm went into Chapter 77 reorganization and shut down in March 1936.

The company was reorganized as Bartley Crucible & Refractories, Inc. on July 12, 1937 and resumed production in August 1937. However, his new backers kept Lawton on a tight rein, and the company's ability to meet orders deteriorated along with quality control. It was also discovered that the pre-Lawton owners had failed to pay real estate taxes for many years. Lawton resigned the presidency in November 1939.

In 1940, control of the company was purchased by Walter L. Shearer (1900-1984), a ceramic engineer who had been a consultant to Bartley since 1930. Shearer, a native of Washington, D.C., was born on June 26, 1900, and graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in chemical engineering in 1922. Following graduation, he worked in the Ceramics Division of the Bureau of Standards and then taught ceramics chemistry at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he met Minna Turton (1902-1962), a school teacher, whom he eventually married after a fourteen-year courtship.

While at Rutgers, Shearer published in the ceramics trade journals and did consulting work for the Trenton potteries. In this way, he met Rodney T. Rouse (1901-1977), a practical ceramicist, and on July 15, 1928, they formed the firm of Rouse & Shearer, Inc., opening a laboratory on 163 Bloomsburg Street in Trenton. Rouse & Shearer provided testing services for the nearly 200 ceramics manufacturers located within a 50-mile radius of Trenton, many of which did not have their own technical staffs. They also did testing for raw materials suppliers and sold prepared colors and glazes. Rouse left the firm in 1930, but Shearer continued to do business under the old name. Bartley was one of Shearer's major clients, and Shearer moved his laboratory into Bartley's plant in the early 1930s.

With his technical training, Shearer was much more flexible and better equipped to ride out the Depression than Lawton. When things were slack, he was able to pick up a few dollars doing water quality tests and even autopsies on police dogs. He formed a useful connection with John Earley (1881-1945), an architectural sculptor, supplying him with colored aggregates and glazes. Earley made precast panels and other economical decorative elements that were used to ornament many WPA-era buildings and public works projects, including the Federal Triangle in Washington.

Shearer became president of Bartley Crucible in January 1941; by this time, the firm was nearly shut down, with only two full-time and two part-time employees. The plant and most of the equipment were sold at a tax sale, and Shearer moved both businesses into smaller quarters at 15 Muirhead Avenue in 1942. Shearer concentrated on his testing and supply business, but manufactured crucibles in small lots to order. He briefly manufactured dental porcelain in the 1940s and decorative porcelain and figurines in the 1950s. Walter Shearer retired at the end of 1971 and turned over both businesses to his son, Arthur L. Shearer (1942-). Bartley continues to produce crucibles, while Rouse & Shearer now concentrates on producing frit and specialty sizing.

Scope and Contents

There are records for all four firms: the Jonathan Bartley Crucible Company (1908-1930), the Bartley Crucible & Refractories Company (1930-1936), Bartley Crucible & Refractories, Inc. (1937-1986), and Rouse & Shearer, Inc. (1928-1969), plus personal papers of Lewis H. Lawton (1929-1937) and Walter L. Shearer (circa 1900-1950). None of the records are complete. The business papers and the Shearer papers and ephemera represent selections of much larger bodies of material, while the Lawton papers are an accidentally preserved sample from the plant. Substantive correspondence has been sifted from a large mass of orders, bills, and receipts. A sample of more routine correspondence has been saved to give an accurate picture of each firm's trading relationships. The Shearer materials have been sampled to present a picture of his education, personality, and social life.

With the exception of a record of crucibles fired, there are no surviving records of Bartley prior to 1926. The surviving material is primarily the correspondence of Lawton and Shearer as head of the firm. Users should note that Lawton usually typed carbon copies of his replies on the backs of incoming letters. The letters document the Depression-related decline and rebirth of the firm, particularly the credit problems faced by small industrial businesses in the 1930s. The main body of correspondence is directly with customers, which include many of the largest industrial corporations, regional foundries, and university laboratories, as well as numerous foreign orders.

There is also correspondence between Lawton and his regional travelling salesmen and sales agents. This contains assessments of market conditions and sales prospects, and reports of customer complaints and requirements. It also gives an interesting picture of the life and routines of the industrial travelling salesman in the years 1926 to 1932. The sales force was disbanded in the latter year, and most of the former salesmen also appear as creditors of the reorganized firm. The factory work force was quite small, and all instructions were probably given orally. There are no records relating to production workers other than letters written in support of applications for relief.

The records of Rouse & Shearer are primarily Walter Shearer's correspondence. It documents the full extent of his activities, including making colored aggregates and glazes, dental porcelain and novelties, and running a general testing laboratory. The records of all four firms contain occasional observations on general economic and political conditions during the New Deal. Lewis Lawton's personal papers are surviving fragments from 1929 and 1937. The latter deal primarily with his attempts to refinance the company. The papers for 1929 show him as a local business leader on the brink of the Depression. There is information on his investments, travel and recreation, and his role in business and civic organizations like the Trenton Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, and as a fund-raiser for the Lawrenceville School.

The records also include a sample of ephemera, reports, and letters collected by Walter Shearer covering his life from grammar school (circa 1910) through college, down to the time he took over Bartley in 1940. They give a good picture of middle-class daily life in the 1920s and 1930s, including education, his involvement with the Epworth League and the YMCA, his period on the Rutgers faculty, and his social life.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Bartley Crucible and Refractories, Inc. records
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400