Category Archives: History of Wagner

History Of Wagner Cast Iron

Rusty WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet - 1058
Rusty WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet – 1058

The use of cast iron for cookware is centuries old and many of the vintage pieces can still be used today. For example, cast iron Dutch ovens were used by the settlers of the United States as they traveled westward. Without their wood burning stoves, the camp Dutch oven provided a way for the travelers to cook their meals over an open fire.

Wagner Hollow Ware Company (Pre Wagner Manufacturing Company)

The  official start of the Wagner Manufacturing Company was in 1891 and you can see the centennial commemoration of this in the 1991 version of the cast iron frying pan.  However, the Wagner brothers, Bernard and Milton,  actually started making metal castings of light hardware for general stores back in 1881.  In addition, the brothers manufactured tin hollowware for government contracts. Tin hollowware is describes  general tableware like  sugar bowls, tea or coffee pots, soup containers, hot food covers, water pitchers, platters, butter plates and other metal items that went with the dishware on a table. Hollowware does not include flatware.  Bernard and Milton Wagner are credited as the first to cast iron for cookware in Sidney, Ohio. WagnerWare was born.

(A short footnote about the Centennial Commemoration of the 1991 version of the skillet, The Wagner’s 1891 Original Cast Iron Skillet - though it stated “Original,” along with a date, this line of cookware was manufactured in 1991 through the late 1990s.  You can tell the quality difference pretty much immediately. modemac over at Cast Iron Chaos has some additional details also.)

WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet - 1058
WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet – 1058

Wagner Manufacturing Company

This is the start of the Wagner cast iron dynasty as we are familiar with it. Two other brothers, William and Louis, were added to the mix in 1891 which triggered the beginning of WagnerWare cast iron cookware.  With the momentum of population growth and expansion, the Wagner brothers had a market ripe for growth and built the most modern and technologically advanced manufacturing facility for casting iron at the time.  Wagner Manufacturing was able to produce world class cookware, rivaling and later surpassing the other powerhouse in the cast iron cookware arena, Griswold.  WagnerWare Cookware was awarded in several nationwide as well as some international expositions, including but not limited to expositions in Chicago, Nashville, Paris, Buffalo, and St. Louis.

Size #3 Used for Serving
Cast Iron Skillet, WagnerWare Size #3 Used for Serving

Uniting Wagner and Griswold

In some circles, this is stated as “Wagner acquiring Griswold” but it is not that simple.  The real story is slightly more complicated and is quite common when small family operated business grow into large corporations.  Companies are bought and sold, consolidated and dismantled, and the cast iron cookware business is no different.  The Randall Corporation purchased Wagner Manufacturing in 1952. McGraw Edison Inc. bought Griswold on March 29, 1957 and then sold it in December 1957 to Randall who already owned Wagner.

Griswold Dutch Oven at the New Mexico History Museum in the Cowboy Exhibit
Griswold Dutch Oven at the New Mexico History Museum in the Cowboy Exhibit
http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org/
Griswold Dutch Oven at the New Mexico History Museum in the Cowboy Exhibit
Griswold Dutch Oven at the New Mexico History Museum in the Cowboy Exhibit
http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org/

 

Beginning of the End

WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet - 1056
Frying an Egg – WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet – 1056

 

Effectively, the Griswold manufacturing plant in Erie, Pennsylvania was shut down in 1957 and any Griswold cookware made after this period was out of the Wagner Manufacturing Sidney, Ohio plant.  This was the beginning of the end of the high quality cookware that both, Griswold and Wagner, were known for.  Well, that might be a little bit harsh but most experts do agree that the quality started to decline in quality at this point.  In 1959, the final nail in the coffin came when Randall sold off Griswold and Wagner to Textron.  It is widely accepted that post 1960 Griswold and Wagner cookware is not in the same collectable class as the pre 1960 cookware.  General Housewares Corp. bought Textron Inc. in 1969 and that included the Griswold and Wagner cast iron cookware lines.  One could argue that those cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and griddles that were made after the merger and acquisitions are better than the ones made after 1990 or so, and that probably not far from the truth.  However, if you compare a modern day, Made in China, cast iron skillet to a 1970, Made in the USA WagnerWare cast iron skillet, to a 1920 Griswold or Wagner cast iron skillet, the difference will be clear.  An interesting note is that cookware that declares it was Made in the USA are typically not considered collectable pieces.


Modern Era

In 1996, a group of investors, which included a former employee of Wagner, purchased the Wagner and Griswold cookware lines.  This was known as the WagnerWare Corporation.  They continued manufacturing for another 3 years before closing their doors in Sidney in 1999.  In 2000, the American Culinary Corporation purchased the rights, legacy, and remaining facilities of the Wagner and Griswold lines.  The former employee noted above is Peter Pike and is the President/CEO of the American Culinary Corporation.  It is clear that Mr. Pike is dedicated to the legacy and quality of the Wagner and Griswold names.

Are you interested in buying vintage cast iron?

Please check out my post on how I acquired my first piece of Wagner Cast Iron.  It might be a different scenario than you think!

Curious about enameled cast iron?  The pretty, colorful stuff – read this blog entry for some of the finer points of Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron.

Preheating - WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet - 1056
Preheating – WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet – 1056

 

Reference: http://www.americanculinarycorp.com/

 

Dating Wagner Cast Iron

How Old Is My Wagner Cast Iron Skillet?

WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet: #3 and #6
Wagner Ware Cast Iron: 1053 (#3) and 1056 (#6)

I hear the question all the time: How old is my Wagner cast iron skillet? Is there a way to date my Wagner cast iron dutch oven?  Or even my Griswold skillet?

It is not an easy answer and there are a few factors to consider.  So, first off there is a line of demarcation for collectible cast iron cookware.  Roughly after 1960, the cast iron cookware that was made in the US is not considered a “collectible” item.  It just means it the collectors don’t hold those pieces of cookware as high as the other pre-1960 pieces.  I would say the 1960s – early 1980s made cast iron cookware is still pretty darn good and probably some of those pieces are better than what you can get today.  Read a little more about the history of Wagner Cast Iron and even Griswold Cast Iron…

In many cases, we cannot determine the exact date that a piece of cookware was made.  Unfortunately.  We can come pretty close to a range of dates once we understand a little bit about the manufacturing of the cookware. The iron foundries would have moulds for the various pieces of cookware and over time the moulds would need to be replaced.  Or through expansion the foundries would get more moulds to increase production or to make another piece of cookware.  Why is all this is important?  Well, the logos and markings on the bottom and handles of cookware would change over time.  In this way, we can assume within a range when a piece of cookware was actually made.

The two pieces to the right (which I found on ebay), are most likely from the period from 1925 – 1959.  It’s a pretty big range, I know.  And one of them, the #3 was apparently never used.  When I got it, there was a little bit of rust present on the gray, unseasoned, raw cast iron.  Amazing that it never had any food on it until I bought it.  I simply washed it with some soap and hot water, soaked it in 50% vinegar & 50% water for 20 minutes.  After that I seasoned it using the method outlined here.




One of the best ways to tell is by the font, location, and styling of the logo and trademarks on the bottom of the cookware.  I highly recommend checking out castironcollector.com with some photos and relative dates.  I used the photos there to review the font and location of the logo on the bottom of the skillet.  You can see the script-style on the “W” where there is a small loop in the center.  The logo and writing is in the center near the top, or opposite the handle.  The “Wagner” has a bit of an arc to it, while “Ware” and “Sidney” are written straight with no arc.  The guide at castironcollector.com has photos for a whole bunch of manufacturers: Favorite Stove & Range, Griswold Manufacturing, Lodge Manufacturing, Martin Stove & Range, Sidney Hollow Ware, Vollrath Manufacturing, Wapak Hollow Ware, and, of course, Wagner Cast Iron Manufacturing.