The Pickard China story dates back to 1893 when Wilder Pickard established the company in Edgerton, Wisconsin. At the turn of the 20th century, Pickard was moved to Chicago where the company specialized in hand-painted art pieces and dessert and tea sets. Artists from the famed Art Institute of Chicago and all over Europe came to Chicago to decorate one of a kind ceramic pieces. These early pieces are now highly sought-after by collectors on the secondary market.
Wilder's son, Austin Pickard, joined the business in the late 1920's and soon began experimentations in developing a fine china dinnerware body. He moved the company to its present Antioch, Illinois location in 1930 and seven years later introduced the warm white china with the lion trademark still used today. This beautiful china, then as now, is noted for its graceful shapes, lightness and delicacy, unusual strength and brilliant glaze.
The third generation of the family, Pete Pickard, succeeded Austin as president of the company in 1966 until his retirement in 1994. His brother-in-law, Eben Morgan, became president in January 1994, serving in this position until December 2005. The family tradition remains in place today - Mr. Morgan's son, Andrew Pickard Morgan, succeeded his father in January 2006 and serves as the company's current president, representing the 4th generation of family members to lead Pickard.
Today Pickard ranks among the finest china made anywhere in the world. The same painstaking craftsmanship and skilled handwork necessary to produce top quality ware has not changed through four generations. Each piece of china produced in the Pickard factory passes through a minimum of 21 stages and three 100% inspections, and is handled by Pickard employees averaging 18 years on the job. The Pickard factory is a rarity in that it is a small family business manufacturing high quality chinaware in an era of huge companies merging and acquiring, becoming larger than ever. Pickard's size is an advantage in today's market because of the care and attention that is paid to each piece. All patterns are decorated with 24K gold (never anything less), pure platinum and brilliant cobalt, with a style that caters to a niche of clientele looking for elegant, timeless upscale dinnerware.
In 1977, Pickard, Incorporated was selected by the U.S. Department of State to manufacture the official china service used by our embassies and other diplomatic missions around the world. The special decoration has an embossed gold border of stars and stripes, and an embossed reproduction of the Great Seal of the United States. Pickard has also been commissioned to produce custom china for Air Force One, Blair House and Camp David.
During the 1970's and 1980's, Pickard China produced many limited edition collector's plates and bowls, and the company was the recipient of many awards, including: being named "Best Manufacturer of Limited Editions" four times by the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers; being named as the manufacturer of the "Plate of the Year" three times by the Bradford Exchange Ltd., a recognized authority in the collector's plate market; and being named "Best Manufacturer of Limited Editions" by readers of Plate Collector magazine for seven consecutive years.
Pickard China has over the years been selected to produce exclusive fine china services for heads of state and many prestigious hotels, restaurants and corporations. The King of Saudi Arabia, Hilton, Sheraton, and Marriott hotels, General Motors, the U.S. Air Force and the Queen of England are among a few who have chosen Pickard for their finest dining.
As we move into the 21st century, Wilder Pickard would be proud that his dream is still alive and flourishing. Most recently, the company has introduced a new line of white body fine china. While Pickard continues to adapt and innovate for the future, its commitment to maintaining the quality that has made Pickard "America's Finest China" has not been compromised. This tradition is recognized and appreciated in markets around the world.
A recent excavation in Antioch, Illinois, uncovered a broken piece of china, which was discarded almost 60 years ago. This partial gravy boat, as the trademark shows, was made for the United States Quarter Master Corp (U.S.Q.M.C.) for the U.S. Navy in March of 1942, some seven months after World War II began. These gravy boats, despite their "clunky" nature, played a pivotal role in Pickard's history. The company had completed its three-year relocation from Chicago to Antioch only six months before the outbreak of the war. Not only was Pickard learning about its new facilities (still home for the company today), but its products were being shifted from hand painting of imported giftware pieces to fine china dinnerware produced exclusively in Antioch.
Eben Morgan, Pickard's President, believes that the move to Antioch and obtaining the gravy boat contract were two of the most important events in the company's history. "Without those two things happening, Pickard would not exist," said Morgan. "Prior to manufacturing in Antioch, Pickard was totally dependent on decorating imported giftware from both Europe and Japan. Obviously, those imports ceased during the war years. And without the fuel granted for the government contract, Pickard's kilns would have been shut down and the business closed. Perhaps some may not consider gravy boats vital to the war effort, but they kept a lot of people employed during some mighty tough times. Austin Pickard told me if the Navy ran short on shells, they could use those gravy boats as ammunition. They were so heavy they would knock down a building!"
Alan Reed, author of The Collector's Encyclopedia of Pickard China, wrote a short historical account of these times which confirms Eben Morgan's account:
"To maintain its operations through the war, Austin Pickard successfully bid on a Navy contract for gravy boats. These heavy chunks of institutional ware were a far cry from the delicate, sculptured porcelain with which the company had become identified. And while the revenue from the contract was important, the most significant benefit was that as a war material contractor, the company qualified for a fuel oil allotment, and it was the oil that fired the kilns and kept the company alive."
For you readers old enough to remember 1942, Pickard's gravy boats arrived just in time for the U.S. Navy's June victory over the Japanese carrier fleet at Midway. Gasoline was rationed with most people allocated 3 gallons per week. To conserve this precious fuel, speed limits were strictly enforced at 35 mph. The last automobile rolled off the Detroit assembly line early in the year, and none would be built until late 1945. Sugar, tires and many other products were rationed, and 40% of all vegetables were grown in "victory gardens." President Roosevelt's retreat, now known as Camp David, was opened in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. (Twenty years ago Pickard made a special dinnerware service for Camp David that is still being used today.) President Roosevelt also initiated the use of aircraft for overseas travel. These presidential planes, now known as Air Force One, are among America's most recognized symbols worldwide, and Pickard is proud to furnish the dinnerware used on this magnificent aircraft since 1988.
Indeed, a lot has happened to our nation and to our company in the past 60 years. The United States has become the shining beacon of freedom to a troubled world, and Pickard has progressed from gravy boats to claim its place as America's Finest China. May both continue to flourish!