The Lodge Manufacturing Company is the longest-running cast iron foundry in America. It is and has always been family-owned. Joseph Lodge started the company in 1896 in the small town (pop. ~3500) of South Pittsburg, Tennessee. His great-grandson Henry Lodge is the current CEO. Another great-grandson, Bob Kellerman, was CEO from 1988 – 2018.
Joseph Lodge leased his original foundry from the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company in 1896 and began business. He named the company “Blacklock” after his friend and minister, Rev. Joseph Hayton Blacklock. The foundry produced sad irons, sugar and stove kettles, English pots, ham boilers, 3-legged skillets and ovens, lids and more. Most products produced by Blacklock were “unmarked,” meaning they did not carry the Blacklock name.
As was common in the early 1900s, Blacklock endured its share of employee unrest. The “union” vs. “non-union” dispute was heated.
A fire destroyed the foundry – and its patterns – on May 19, 1910.
Because Blacklock was in operation only from 1896 to May 1910 and the fire consumed the foundry, there are few Blacklock records. While old company catalogues are often used to help identify old unmarked cast iron hollow ware, there are only two known catalogues of Blacklock pieces – one written in English and one in French. Thus, unless a piece is marked with the name “Blacklock,” the best one can say is that it “may be,” “looks like” or “could be” a Blacklock piece. While the pieces are believed to have certain characteristics, known unmarked Blacklocks are elusive at best.
After the foundry fire, Joseph Lodge purchased a meadow a few blocks south of the original property for $6,000, and built a new foundry. He renamed the company the Lodge Manufacturing Company. The first pour at the new Lodge foundry was on August 26, 1910.
The Lodge plant still stands on the property purchased by Joseph Lodge, though it has greatly expanded and modernized over the years.
Prior to the 1950s, cast iron manufactured by Lodge was made in the same manner as in other old foundries; by hand-pouring into sand molds. In 1950, however, Lodge started automating certain processes. In 1964 Lodge purchased the company’s first “Disa-Matic” machine, which fully automated the casting process. Along with the automation came an increase in weight of Lodge pieces, as well as a more textured surface than that seen on the early pieces.
Lodge collector Harold Henry refers to the Lodge Manufacturing Company – and the family that leads the company – as “survivors.” That they are. While many foundries have fallen by the wayside, Lodge has survived – and paid its employees – through good times and bad. During the Great Depression, Lodge manufactured certain novelty items – gnomes and dogs and such – to keep the company afloat and to keep provide a paycheck to employees. Some of collector Grady Britt‘s most-prized pieces are cast iron dogs that he believes were made by Lodge during the depression.
In 2002, Lodge began pre-seasoning its cast iron cookware as part of the “Lodge Logic” line. Previously, Lodge had dipped its pieces – through an automated process – into vats of “hot carnauba bean wax.” Good Housekeeping awarded Lodge a “Good Buy” award for its pre-seasoning process, as recognition for having created “a groundbreaking product that solves an everyday problem.” By 2007, all of the cookware produced by Lodge was pre-seasoned.
Sales of Lodge cast iron show no sign of slowing down. During our amazing Lodge foundry tour, we learned that sales have doubled since Lodge began pre-seasoning its cookware. That jump is also reflected in its number of employees. In 2005, Lodge had 185 employees. Today, there are 470.1 Lodge’s output has grown so much, in fact, that it opened a second foundry a few short blocks from its original foundry in 2017. The first pour was on November 20, 2017. Lodge now has 5 DISA-matic machines. Each can make 350-400 molds an hour, and each mold may have multiple pieces.
In addition to its sales in the United States, Lodge ships globally. When I interviewed collector John Clough of Chester Virginia, I was surprised to learn that there is a large market in Japan for Lodge. Some of the pieces that Lodge produces for Japan are available only there.
Lodge provides public tours of its foundry only the last weekend of April, during the annual “National Cornbread Festival”. The festival is a big event (its website touts more than 27,000 attendees), with tours, music, food, a cornbread cook-off, street dance, carnival, and more. In 2017 Lodge began hosting a “collector’s tent” during the festival, where collectors showed off prized pieces. CEO emeritus Bob Kellerman spoke in the collector’s tent and told some stories of Lodge history including his run with the Olympic torch in 2002 and the development of the Lodge “Mickey Mouse” gem pan.
Lodge is a great buy, especially for someone starting out in cast iron – they are hardy pieces and easy to care for. They are also great for car camping and cooking over an open fire. Lodge stands behind its products, and the price point is the best out there for quality cast iron.
As Lodge Collector Harold Henry says, “Lodge must be doing something right.”
Additional resources about Lodge which I found particularly interesting and/or helpful:
C. Millhiser, From Hand Pour to Automation, a History of Lodge Manufacturing Company from 1896 to 1988 (available for purchase at the Lodge Factory Store).
- This number includes the employees at Lodge’s four factory stores.