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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 14, 2022

The birth of Granite City on the east side of the Mississippi River is an interesting origin story. It involves two brothers, an invention, and a lack of space in St. Louis. Just press play to hear the whole story. -----

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88-one, KDHX. ———

If you’re anything like me, preparing a meal is a messy undertaking. I always seem to end up using every item in my kitchen cabinets, and cleaning it all is always the hardest part. We shouldn’t complain though – today’s nonstick frying pans and heatproof plastic utensils make cooking drastically easier than was for St. Louisans of the past. The 19th century’s tin and iron kitchenware was notoriously difficult to keep clean and rust free, but in the 1870s, two St. Louis brothers came to the rescue. ———

German immigrants William and Frederick Niedringhaus had spent years making tin and iron kitchenware at their St. Louis Stamping Company, when they developed a goldmine idea. Hard and readily available granite could be ground down into an ultrafine powder, mixed into liquid enamel, and fused onto metal surfaces in kilns that hit 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The result was a slick mottled blue coating that was attractively unique on every piece made. Burn resistant, durable, and easy to clean, this “graniteware” made the perfect finish for any kitchen item imaginable. ———

Patenting graniteware in 1877, the Niedringhaus brothers produced everything from frying pans and coffeepots to flytraps and spittoons. Their early catalogs even doubled as cookbooks, providing examples of mouthwatering dishes you could make in your stylish new graniteware pots. But as their kitchenware empire boomed, the brothers had trouble finding factory expansion space on St. Louis’s dense north riverfront. ———

In 1892, the Niedringhaus brothers bought 3,500 acres of prairie land just across the river in Illinois. They hired St. Louis City engineer Julius Pitzman to lay out not just their factories, but an entire new city. Granite City boomed across the early 1900s, with the Niedringhauses’ steel rolling mills and graniteware enameling works employing thousands. From these beginnings in kitchenware, Granite City would become one of the most important centers of steel production in the United States. ———
Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———