Remembering American Lava Corporation

Sunday, September 2, 2012 - by Harmon Jolley

I once asked my mother how she broke the news to her parents that she was leaving the family farm to work in Chattanooga.  Though it had been many years since the discussion took place, she remembered it clearly - “I told them that I didn’t want to pick cotton the rest of my life.”

My mother left the farm to operate a kiln in the firing shop of American Lava’s factory at Manufacturers Road at Cherokee Boulevard.   In the early 1950’s, the company employed about 1,500 workers in the production of ceramic insulators for electrical equipment.  She lived in an apartment in Highland Park, and rode the bus each day to North Chattanooga.   Though she had graduated Marion County High School, part of her on-the-job training included classes at Kirkman Technical High School. 

Paul Kruesi became one of the founders of American Lava in 1902.  He was an electric engineering graduate of Union College in Schenectady, New York.    Following employment with General Electric, he moved to Chattanooga.  He was chairman of the board of American Lava during my mother’s career there.

The first American Lava plant was at Market Square, followed by a move to Williams Street in 1910.   The Chattanooga Times reported on March 18, 1936 that the company had purchased a former furniture warehouse.  This became the site of the aforementioned place where my mother worked.  The plant was located near rail lines and in proximity to the Tennessee River.   Company officials had turned down offers from as far away as New Jersey, all seeking to have American Lava to relocate.

My uncle also worked for American Lava, and was my mother’s supervisor.  Both watched the news closely in 1953, when the Chattanooga Times reported on June 5 that 3M was acquiring their company in a stock deal.  The plant would retain local management, and be operated as a subsidiary.

The Chattanooga Times reported on April 17, 1963 that a division of American Lava’s operations was being transferred to Laurens, SC.  This had implications for my uncle, but not my mother, who was by then a homemaker.    My uncle transferred to work at Laurens, and moved to South Carolina with my aunt and two young sons.  He remained in South Carolina the rest of his life, but often chatted with my mother and others about working at American Lava in his home town of Chattanooga.

The February 4, 1981 Chattanooga News-Free Press had a banner headline that read, “3M TO CLOSE MAIN PLANT HERE.”   Fortunately, there are many photographs that document the peak production years of American Lava prior to the closing.

 In 1952, employees had received a brochure, “50 Years of Progress – a Picture Trip through American Lava Corporation.”

In honor of Labor Day, and workers past, present, and future, I have included a gallery of selected photographs from that publication.  These pictures captured the teamwork and ingenuity that existed at American Lava, and that still exist in workplaces today.

If you have memories of working at American Lava, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.   Does anyone know if there is still an American Lava retirees group which meets?

 

 

 


Neal Thompson's Great-Grandfather Looked On As Historic Signing For Women's Suffrage Took Place

The Moccasin Bend Lecture Series Presents “The Legacy Of Julius Rosenwald And The Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park Campaign”

Roark-Conner Family Is Preserving A 63-Year Hamilton County Tradition Virtually


Local attorney Neal Thompson has an historic photo marking the signing that sealed the right for women to vote. It features his great-grandfather, Frank M. Thompson, who was the attorney general ... (click for more)

T he 16th annual Moccasin Bend Lecture Series continues with a compelling presentation on Monday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. featuring “The Legacy of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools National ... (click for more)

In the summer of 1959, the Roark-Conner family held its first reunion in Birchwood, Hamilton County. Every year, descendants gathered in the Birchwood area to meet with each other, remember ancestors, ... (click for more)



Memories

Neal Thompson's Great-Grandfather Looked On As Historic Signing For Women's Suffrage Took Place

Local attorney Neal Thompson has an historic photo marking the signing that sealed the right for women to vote. It features his great-grandfather, Frank M. Thompson, who was the attorney general for Tennessee for 11 years (from 1915-1926.) The photo shows Tennessee Gov. Albert H. Roberts signing the document in which Tennessee narrowly ratified the 19th Amendment. Tennessee ... (click for more)

The Moccasin Bend Lecture Series Presents “The Legacy Of Julius Rosenwald And The Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park Campaign”

T he 16th annual Moccasin Bend Lecture Series continues with a compelling presentation on Monday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. featuring “The Legacy of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park Campaign.” Guest speaker, Dr. Dorothy Canter, president of the Campaign’s board, will introduce audiences at the IMAX and via the virtual broadcast, to the Rosenwald Schools, ... (click for more)

Breaking News

County Commission Makes Last-Minute Redistricting Changes Before Vote Next Wednesday On 11-Member Plan; Sparks Fly Between Sharpe, Smedley

The County Commission made last-minute redistricting changes to its 11-member plan at a lengthy meeting on Wednesday. The commission is expected to pass the plan next Wednesday and send it on to state officials for their approval. Officials said the completed plan is within deviation standards (not having one or more districts too much larger or smaller than others) and keeps ... (click for more)

Arrest Made In Highway 153 Murder, Attempted Murder; Stewart Luttrell, 35, Killed; Woman In Same Car Also Shot; Child In Car Not Injured

Stewart Brodie Luttrell, 35, was killed in an incident Tuesday night on Highway 153 that resulted in traffic being clogged for hours. A woman, 27, was also injured, and a child in the car was uninjured. Police said Wednesday night that h omicide investigators have arrested 26-year-old Genesis Latroy Vaughn in connection with the incident. Vaughn is in custody at the Silverdale ... (click for more)

Opinion

Pretending Is Dangerous - And Response

I’ve ‘seen some stuff’ in my time. I have followed politics for many years. I’m retired, I’m a realist and a Vietnam veteran, pretty much in that order. I’m not an alarmist or a conspiracy theorist. That said, I have never in my life been so concerned about the future of this Republic. Politics was once a legitimate contest of ideas, put forth by political figures who were sincere, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Mandates Argument

I have taken the position that mandates of any kind that limit personal freedoms are awful. And I have watched with sorrow what has happened at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and is now happening at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga. Good people are losing jobs all across America rather than surrender their personal beliefs. I also mourn the COVID vaccine has been divided ... (click for more)