After work on Monday evening, Mom and I found ourselves crawling around in the bottom of a newly dug drainage ditch that borders the adjacent landowner to my west. When I see fresh dirt, there is something that wells up inside of me, that compels me to check it out. I am not sure if it’s the historian in me or just a little of my southern noisiness working to the surface.
As I combed the bottom of the ditch, turning over stones and fingering through rubble, to my surprise, I discovered a pottery shard. The area is interesting in that it was the site of an abandoned home that was torn down, circa 1970.
As a child, I remember hearing that the Winburn’s lived there. Cat and Charlie had been friends of my grandparents, on my father’s side. I won’t lie, my mind drifted and I found myself wondering if this shard had once been a part of a plate that served on their table?
History is unique in that despite geography, nationality, and time, there are still threads of interconnectivity that bind us all together. Who would have ever thought that, in a ditch off New Hopewell Road in Darlington County, South Carolina, I would find myself thrust back in time to the intersection of Church & Rose Streets in Mount Clemens, Michigan, the Rose capital of the United States? That’s right! With over 30 acres under glass.
Circa 1910, at the intersection of Church Street and Rose Street, the Mount Clemens Pottery Co. was established with Charles E. Doll as manager. This happened in the aftermath of an area-wide economic depression. A local businessmen’s association looked to economically boost the area and traveled to pottery factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania to see how these different companies produced their wares. After a few years of preparation, production officially started in 1915 in a warehouse built on an old farm. By the end of the first year, over 36,000 pieces per week were produced .
Contrast this to 1964, when the company was turning out 240,00 pieces of dinnerware per day.
The shard of creamwear with the vogue embossed pattern that I found in the ditch was mostly produced during the 1930s. Right after this period, the company became embroiled in a legal battle that still has ramifications today.
In 1941, workers were being docked pay for the time between when they clocked in and when they started work. This was due to the long prep time needed before they would actually start working. Workers had to clock-in, walk a long way down to their workstations, covering 8 acres, and prepare their work station before finally starting work [1, 4]. The workers filed a class-action lawsuit; Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Company claiming that the company was unfairly docking their wages and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court ruled mostly in favor of the company. They stated that it was up to the employees to cover the prep time, although they did require the company to pay the workers over $2000 in back-pay. The workers appealed the decision. The legal battle made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court . They remanded the case back to the lower courts with the strong recommendation that it was up to the employers, not the employees, to provide for the prep time. This led to the creation of the “Portal to Portal Act” in 1947 which defined work time as the time you entered the workspace to the time you leave it, and it is then up to the employer to justify docking wages within that timeframe .
After the case was settled in 1946, Mount Clemens Pottery Co. still had issues with workers, but things eventually stabilized. The factory permanently shut its doors in 1986 after sales plummeted.
Who would have ever thought that the pottery shard I was holding is actually symbolic of workers’ rights that still have lasting effects, well into the 21st century here in Darlington County?
 MCPL (Mount Clemens Public Library), 2008. Mount Clemens Pottery Company – Local History Sketches, pp.1-3
 Doll, C.E., 1993. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company: History and Memories.
 Goldberg, H.M. et al., 2014. When Does Compensation for “Time Spent Under the Employer’s Control” Include Pre and Post Shift Waiting and Other Activities?. Southern Journal of Business and Ethics; vol. 6:33-45.
Don’t miss the chance to participate in some really fun and educational events.