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W. H. Farrar began his career as a potter when he moved from his native Vermont and opened his first ceramics business to make salt glazed stoneware in Geddes, New York in 1841, an area now part of Syracuse, New York. In 1858, Farrar sold the Geddes operation and moved to Syracuse where he established a new factory and began making utilitarian redware such as pots, storage jars, mixing bowls, and other cookware known collectively as Rockingham line, similar in appearance to Pfaltzgraph more familiar to collectors. Rockingham was made using a locally available yellow clay, but in the 1860s Farrar was able to acquire a pure white clay suitable for making finer porcelain and china. The Erie Canal and the emerging national system of railroads were making the transport of raw materials like clay from their optimal sources to the centers of manufacturing cost effective. In 1868, W. H. Farrar and 3 partners established a new company in Syracuse named the Empire Pottery Company, managed by a talented English potter Lyman Clark. 

Further consolidation of the local Syracuse area potteries occured in 1871 when a group of 16 Syracuse NY business leaders formed a new partnership and established the Onondaga Pottery Company (O. P. Co.) in Geddes. Onondaga was the name of the county in which Syracuse is located, named after the Native American Iroquois tribe of the area. Onondaga Pottery subsequently purchased Empire, changing its name and extending its lines to include restaurant and retail consumer chinaware and various ceramic wares such as planters, storage containers, serving vessels, bed pans, and table accessories. Chance played a role in the evolution of Syracuse China when in 1884 designer Elmer Walter opened the Boston China Decorating Works across the street from the pottery, and Walter and his artisans began decorating the work produced by Onondaga Pottery. A fire in 1886 destroyed Elmer Walter's decorating operation, so he and his employees were hired by Onondaga to create an in house decorating and design department. Around this same time, Onondaga produced its first vitreous white china now under the leadership of master potter James Pass, and the first china line produced by the company was launched in 1891 under the name Imperial Geddo. The line won a medal at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and their wares gained greater exposure with the public through this award and press coverage. 

Onondaga first used the Syracuse China mark in 1895 to mark the pure white vitreous china for which they were one of the first and finest American manufacturers. Other technical innovations such as chip resistance appealed to hotels, restaurants, railroads, and other institutional buyers who needed durability plus aesthetics. Onondaga sales representatives gave away samples to the hotel and restaurant trades, and the in house decorating department made inexpensive lithography of hotel and restaurant labels feasible and furthering the company's market penetration of the institutional markets. Affordable, durable Syracuse China became popular in American restaurants, schools, and eventually in American homes with the introduction of thinner, more stylish consumer china but still retaining the Syracuse qualities such as durability that had already made it a success. Technical innovations continued, and colors were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s including the Old Ivory and Adobe lines, and the Art Deco Econo-Rim line proved particularly popular with the railroads which in those days still offered fine dining on fine china. During the years of World War II, the company retooled for war production and made ceramic casings for munitions like anti-tank mines. In 1966, Onondaga Pottery formally changed its name to Syracuse China. Facing much competition from low cost Asian manufacturers for the retail consumer market, the company began focusing exclusively on restaurant commercial grade china and the food service industry about 1970. Syracuse China merged with Canadian Pacific Investments in 1978 which went on to acquire other companies including the Mayer China Company and the Shenango Pottery Company both of Pennsylvania. Syracuase did not operate these Pennsylvania plants long after their acquisition, merging their production with existing facilities in Syracuse to achieve operating efficiencies and tight management and cost controls. The company continued to change hands, acquired in 1989 by the Susquehanna-Pfaltzgraff Company of York, PA and subsequently by Libbey Inc. of Toledo, Ohio in 1995 which continues to operate and produce Syracuse China today.

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