In 1895 W. F. Rocker, from Kentucky, came to the East Texas town of Marshall and founded the Marshall Pottery Works. The reason he was attracted to Marshall was due to the abundance of the two natural ingredients his business needed—white clay and water. Through a series of ownerships, the pottery finally fell into the hands of Sam Ellis around 1905. The story is told that Mr. Ellis, who was a blacksmith by trade, would walk by the Pottery everyday on his way to and from work. He ended up loaning the owner at that time, a Mr. Studer, $375.55 to build a new kiln. Not long after, Mr. Ellis found a note under a rock at the pottery stating, “I have this day sold to S.H. Ellis the Marshall Pottery Works, consisting of tools, clay, manufacturing ware, one wagon, two mules…”
Ellis expanded the pottery and put his family to work in the new family business. A fire in 1912 almost destroyed the pottery, and Mr. Ellis was forced for the first time, to borrow $2,000 to rebuild. Canning jars, crocks and syrup jugs were delivered by mule and wagon until 1913 when the first Marshall Pottery truck was bought. Soon thereafter, the invention of the metal syrup bucket and then the glass canning jar in the 1920’s nearly spelled doom for the business. Interestingly enough, according to Sam Ellis’ son, the coming of prohibition saved the pottery. Had it not been for the sale of jugs for moonshine, the Ellis family said, the company might have folded.
With the accidental discovery of a lower firing clay in the 1940’s history was written. The company started producing its second product line, flower pots. The two manufacturing lines are still produced today although both processes have been modernized and updated with new processes and technologies.
One of Marshall Pottery’s early masters was Pete Payne, a potter featured in the Smithsonian Institute. Peter produced handturned pottery beginning in the 1930’s and finally retired in 1985. Just as Pete did for over 50 years, the age-old practice of handturning pottery by master potters can still be seen at Marshall Pottery, being passed down from master potter to apprentice.
In 1974 a retail store was added to the Marshall Pottery family.