History of Dinnerware in the USA

In my family, we used a set of china dishes for special occasions. Those beautiful white plates with their feathery lines signaled festive times. We knew to be extra careful with these pieces, but I never thought about why they remained packed away so often. They seemed ancient to me at the time, but we are still using them for Thanksgiving dinners.

My story echoed through the research as I prepared this post. Over the decades, china sets were too expensive to replace, so they were used sparingly. When our country was young, china sets came from England, not made here in America. The term china encompasses different materials, styles, and brands but is consistent with high value.  In my home, our “regular” dishes held food every day with rambunctious toddlers and surly teens.  These items fall into the category of dinnerware.

The Pilgrims overcame many obstacles in their new home but luckily didn’t worry about cleaning piles of dirty dishes. Besides the lack of a dishwasher or sink, they didn’t use dinnerware in the 1600s. Surprisingly, they didn’t pass a pumpkin-shaped platter from hand to hand to serve slices of turkey. The Pilgrims and Native Americans used their hands and cloths to eat their famous meal. This fact gives the holiday an even more communal feel!

America has a rich history of potters who created stoneware plates and bowls. They imitated the techniques used in England but lacked white clay to make china. Their plates were called stoneware and used as everyday dishes or dinnerware. More and more potters began springing up as the country grew. Some became companies that are still in existence today.

In 1815, Stoneware & Co. began in Louisville, Kentucky. Jacob Lewis and his descendants have created pieces for over 200 years.  Amazingly, they operate in the same factory today! Personalized pieces, serving dishes, and embossed mugs are offered. A bachelor button print, a blue flower, looks both modern and vintage at the same time and draws attention to the careful detail work. Stoneware & Co. also features julep cups as a nod to the Kentucky Derby.

Lenox is a familiar name in home goods. They have the distinction of being the first American-made china to grace the White House’s table. Lenox began in 1889 in Trenton, New Jersey with no intention of mass-producing dinnerware. Walter Scott Lenox created a space for artists to craft handmade pieces of china. The artists sold these pieces but didn’t create whole sets. Their popularity and demand allowed Walter to expand into the distinguished brand they are today. Lenox proclaims their goods are still made in America.

In 1948, David Gil began Bennington Potters in Vermont and owned the company for 54 years. The current potters carry on his tradition crafting their wares in plain sight. They offer tours to show each step of the process to visitors. Trigger cups, ones with two finger holes, pop up on their site and look perfect for warm beverages. The Bennington plates, baking dishes, and pitchers all carry a distinct style.

CorningWare was another familiar sight when I was young. Green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and chicken pot pie were served in my mother’s blue and white CorningWare dish. I even had a tiny plastic replica in my play kitchen. Owning such an item signaled adulthood in my eyes. They are one brand from Corelle, which started as Corning Glass Works in 1851, in Massachusetts. The original company changed names and divided into new businesses. These took on headlights, windshields, and phone screens throughout their history. Corelle includes Pyrex, Snapware, and Chicago Cutlery. Some, but not all, of these items are currently made in America.

While we hear about American-made clothing, shoes, or vehicles, dinnerware doesn’t usually enter the conversation. I started to look at my own collection and at what I found online. It takes some effort, but you can find beautiful dishes proudly made here in America. Take a look at our list here to find searchable categories of home goods, clothing, sports equipment, and more.