Haeger Industries Inc.
Haeger Industries Inc.
Employees: 200 (est.)
Sales: $25 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 327112 Vitreous China, Fine Earthenware, and Other Pottery Product Manufacturing
Based in East Dundee, Illinois, Haeger Industries Inc. is a privately owned ceramic manufacturer that does business as Haeger Potteries. Another company, Royal Haeger Lamp Company, offers a wide variety of floor and table lamps. Haeger Potteries brands include Royal Haeger, Haeger Floral, Gardenhouse by Haeger, and Haeger Home, offering a wide variety of tableware, vases, urns, figurines, ceramic lamps, serve ware, and other decorative pottery.
Production is done at the company’s 250,000-square-foot plant in East Dundee, which turns out more than 2 million pieces a year, making Haeger one of the largest producers of pottery in the United States. Haeger products are carried by such retailers as Bloomingdales, Crate & Barrel, JC Penney, La-Z-Boy Galleries, Linens ’n Things, Pier 1 Imports, and The Pfaltzgraff Company, as well as many florists, garden centers, and home centers. Haeger Industries also maintains a museum and runs a factory store. Its annual summer sale has become a Chicago-area tradition since it began in the early 1970s. Haeger items from the early decades of the 1900s are somewhat undervalued, but because they were unmarked or had paper labels that came lose, the items can often be purchased inexpensively at estate sales or flea markets. Knowledgeable collectors can pick out unlabeled Haeger pottery because of the distinctive color and finish that marked different periods. Haeger’s 1950s TV lamps have become a popular collecting niche, and even items from as late as the 1960s and 1970s are now drawing interest from collectors. Haeger is owned by its president, Alexandra Haeger Estes, the great-granddaughter of its founder, David H. Haeger.
COMPANY FOUNDED: 1871
Born in Germany, David H. Haeger settled in East Dundee, Illinois, a community largely inhabited by Lutheran Germans who began arriving in the 1850s. The banks of the nearby Fox River provided ample supplies of clay suitable for brick making, and in 1852 the Dundee Brickyard was started. (Haeger Industries would later ship in the clay it used from Kentucky, New York, and elsewhere.) Haeger bought into the business in 1871 and before the year was out he became the sole owner. His timing proved fortuitous, albeit not for the citizens of Chicago, who in that same year witnessed The Great Chicago Fire, which swept through the city for three days in October, destroying some 17,500 buildings. Filled with pioneer stock, Chicago quickly set to the task of rebuilding their fast-growing town, but wary of future fires, a good many of the citizens opted to construct their new dwellings and commercial buildings out of less-flammable bricks, which Haeger was more than eager to supply. Haeger bricks and tiles would also be used to build other developing towns and cities in the Midwest.
Before Haeger died in 1900 Dundee Brickyard had begun using some of the Fox River clay to fashion red clay flowerpots for florists. Haeger’s son, Edmund H. Haeger, headed the family business and continued to build the pottery line. In 1912 the company introduced a line of glazed artware. Two years later J. Martin Stangl was hired to create a new art pottery line of florist ware. Stangl was a ceramic engineer who was the superintendent for New Jersey-based Fulper Pottery, where he developed innovative glazes and shapes. Drawing on classical arts and crafts shapes, he eschewed decorative flourishes, instead emphasizing glaze and form. The glaze look, in fact, became the signature feature of Haeger pottery.
In 1919 Edmund Haeger split off from the brickyard by acquiring the pottery division. He called the new business The Haeger Potteries. A year later Stangl returned to Fulper to become general manager, eventually becoming the owner and changing the name to Stangl Pottery. Haeger enjoyed a strong florist trade business and built upon it by adding other items. They attracted the attention of department store buyers and the Haeger line began to be carried by many of the country’s upscale department stores. As a result of this increased demand, the factory soon tripled its output. Haeger pottery received a great deal of attention during the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1934 when more than four million people visited its exhibition of ancient and modern methods of pottery products, the hit of which were the Southwest Indian potters that demonstrated their skills.
ROYAL HICKMAN HIRED: 1948
Edmund Haeger’s son-in-law, Joseph F. Estes, took over as general manager in 1938 and launched an expansion and diversification program. He quickly made his mark by hiring the company’s second great artist, 45-year-old Royal Hickman, who turned to pottery later in life after being debilitated while working construction in Panama. After establishing himself in the United States producing dinnerware designs, he was dispatched to Europe in the 1930s to design crystal figurines for production in Denmark, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Italy.
As World War II began to engulf the continent in the late 1930s, Hickman returned to the United States, becoming Haeger’s chief designer in 1938. His distinctive Art Deco designs with their smooth, flowing lines, combined with Haeger’s rich glazes led to the Royal Haeger artware line of pottery and accessories. It became a sensation with customers of the day and then withstood the test of time. Pieces from the period became collectibles and the Royal Haeger line established itself as a mainstay for the company. One of Hickman’s most popular design was a low, sleek, stalking black panther, introduced in 1941 and available in three sizes. As part of his expansion effort, Estes formed the Royal Haeger Lamp Company in 1939 and launched the Royal Haeger line of lamp bases. Also in that year, he increased Haeger’s ability to manufacture floral artware by acquiring the Buckeye Pottery Building in Macomb, Illinois.
Hickman left Haeger in 1944, but would later provide designs on a freelance basis. The company’s next significant designer, Eric Olson, was hired in 1947. His tenure as chief designer lasted 25 years, finally ending in 1972. He made a number of lasting contributions to the Haeger lines, especially his 1955 design of a red bull. In the 1940s and 1950s, the company turned out a wide variety of animal figures, as well as a series of popular table and TV lamps.
Designers other than Olson also played important roles during his time and beyond. In 1954 Elsa Ken Haeger designed the Royal Garden Flower-ware line that was produced for the next decade, and in 1971 Sascha Brastoff designed the Esplanade and Roman Bronze lines for the company. Other important American designers and sculptors to provide designs to Haeger included Franz Joseph Koenig; C. Glenn Richardson, who would later serve as director of design; and Sebastiano Maglio, an eighth-generation Italian potter who worked for Haeger from 1963 to 1995. In 1976 Haeger produced an eight-foot-tall vase that weighed more than 650 pounds, making it, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest hand-thrown vase in the world. It would find a permanent home at the company’s museum in East Dundee.
Our family aspirations of four generations have always been dedicated to fine craftsmanship, quality, value and customer satisfaction.
Edmund Haeger died in 1954 and Estes became the company’s president. Helping him in the background was his wife, Barbara, Edmund’s daughter, whose role was obscured in deference to the perceived role of women in business at the time. Although she was devoted to raising her children, she also served on Haeger’s board of directors and helped chart the company’s course. Her daughter, Alexandra Haeger Estes, would not have to play such a secondary role, however. From her early childhood she developed an interest in the business. She told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Illinois, that when she first visited the East Dundee facility, the tunnel kiln, a block-long expanse through which all of the items were pushed on railcars, fascinated her. “That’s where the magic really happens because it gets fired there and the vibrance of the color and the texture of the glaze is brought out,” she said.
ALEXANDRA ESTES NAMED PRESIDENT: 1984
In 1969 the Royal Haeger Lamp Company opened a new plant in Macomb, Illinois, dedicated solely to the production of lamp bases and shades. Alexandra Estes’ brother, Nicholas H. Estes, became general manager of the division. Ten years later there was a changing of the guard for the companies that made up Haeger Industries when Joseph Estes passed away. Nicholas Estes became president of The Royal Haeger Lamp Company, while Alexandra Estes became the president of Haeger Potteries. In 1984 she also assumed the presidency of the parent company, Haeger Industries. Her husband, Craig Zachrich, served as the company’s chief operating officer. Another generation of the Estes family was also waiting in the wings to become involved. Soon, Nicholas’s son would go to work for Royal Haeger Lamp.
Haeger Potteries continued to grow under the leadership of its fourth generation. There were missteps, however. Most noteworthy was an attempt to move into retail by opening outlet stores offering discontinued and flawed items. Haeger then found itself competing against its retail partners who were offering full-price Haeger merchandise. The stores were closed, with the exception of the factory store at the company’s main plant. The company’s only other retailing effort was the annual summer Haeger Potteries Factory Outlet Tent Sale held in East Dundee. Started in 1971, the tent sale attracted customers from hundreds of miles away, and continued through 2004.
As Haeger Potteries entered the new century, it relied on dozens of classic designs to produce the bulk of its sales, occasionally dipping into the past to bring back other designs that became available on a limited basis. “We do redesign quite a bit of our line extensively each year—new colors, new shapes—and try to keep ahead of the competition that way. That is the lifeblood of our company,” Alexandra Estes told Home Accents Today. To add business, the company began to turn to licensing as well. In 2001 the Royal Haeger division licensed Pfaltzgraff’s highly popular five-year-old Naturewood dinnerware pattern to create a new line of ceramic artware products, including 8- and 12-inch vases, a vase-umbrella stand, bookends, leaf dishes, compotes, and cachepots. Not only was it Haeger’s first experience with licensing, it was the first time Pfaltzgraff licensed a pattern to a ceramic manufacturer. Because Haeger sold into different distribution channels, Pfaltzgraff was able to broaden the market for the Naturewood pattern. In 2006 Haeger secured a license with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to adapt designs of the legendary architect in the foundation’s archives to produce ceramic decorative items, including vases and sculptures.
- David H. Haeger buys Dundee Brickyard.
- Company introduces line of glazed artware.
- Edmund Haeger acquires pottery division to form Haeger Pottery.
- Royal Haeger Lamp Company established.
- Joseph F. Estes becomes president.
- Estes dies; daughter, Alexandra Haeger Estes, becomes president of Haeger Pottery.
- Alexandra Estes assumes presidency of parent company, Haeger Industries.
- Macomb, Illinois, plant closes.
The early years of the new century also saw the passing of an era. In April 2004 Barbara Haeger Estes died at the age of 89. Her children carried on the family tradition but faced new challenges. Business sagged, due in large part from competition from overseas and less expensive pottery produced from the likes of China, Japan, Portugal, and Italy, which either benefited from inexpensive labor, cheap capital, subsidized healthcare, or a lack of government regulation to gain an edge on Haeger, one of the few pottery companies left operating in the United States. To make matters worse, many of the floral shops and the mom-and-pop gift stores that sold a large amount of Haeger wares had fallen by the wayside. Estes and her family had no intention of moving production overseas, but it simply could not afford to run two pottery factories. In 2004 the Macomb facility, which had been in operation since the late 1800s and had been owned by Haeger since 1939, closed its doors and some 65 people lost their jobs. Production was then transferred to the remaining East Dundee plant. Here the company, despite economic disadvantages, continued to produce pottery from its backlog of designs, refashioned many of them to suit contemporary tastes, and created new ones to remain competitive in a global economy.
Haeger Potteries; Royal Haeger Lamp Company.
Enesco LLC; Fitz and Floyd, Inc.; The Pfaltzgraff Company.
Garmoe, Patrick, “Member of Haeger Potteries Family Remembered as Graceful, Loving,” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.), April 24, 2004.
Ingram, Cinde W., “Haeger Potteries Celebrates 135th Anniversary,” Home Accents Today, February 1, 2006, p. 16.
Kaplin, Allison, “‘Stick with What You Know’ Is Haeger’s Key to Success,” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.), May 26, 1996, p. 1.
Mullen, Julie, “Glaze of Glory,” Courier News, April 11, 2007.
“A Positive Spin,” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.), February 18, 2000, p. 6.
Pospeschil, Jodi, “Haeger Potteries Will Close—Longtime Macomb Business Blames Foreign Competition,” Peoria Journal Star, August 31, 2004, p. A1.