Joseph Mahan Wells (1889 - 1970) was the eldest son of William Edwin Wells and Elizabeth Mahan.
After graduating from East Liverpool High School, Wells attended Andover Academy and Yale University. He graduated from Bethany College in 1911 and served in World War I.
Wells married Fern Hanna on August 21, 1912. They had two children, Joseph M. Wells Jr. and Virginia Rose Wells. (The dinnerware shape Virginia Rose was named after J.M. Wells' daughter in 1932. Virginia Rose would go on to marry William Rabe Kelly on April 25, 1942.)
On Feb. 1, 1930, Joseph Wells became the secretary - treasurer and general manager of the Homer Laughlin China Company. In 1960, he was made chairman of the board and his son, Joseph M. Wells Jr., became executive vice-president and general manager of the pottery.
Wells was president of the East Liverpool City Hospital Association, trustee of the East Liverpool Y. M. C. A., and member of the Presbyterian Church in Newell. He was chairman of the Labor Committee of the U. S. Potters Association.
An avid golfer, he won the Ohio Amature Gold Championship in 1922 and 1924 as well as the United States Senior champion in 1949 and runner up in 1953. In 1936, he and his son won the West Penn father-son tournament.
As general manager of Homer Laughlin, J. M. Wells had the final say on what went into production, including everything from individual pieces to entire lines. From 1930 to 1960, he approved over forty shapes such as Fiesta®, Harlequin, OvenServe, Virginia Rose, Century, Epicure, Skytone, and the various Eggshell lines.
In some cases, Wells would give general instructions to the art department to initiate a line. Designer Frederick Rhead noted this several times in his journals. For example, on November 30, 1931, Rhead wrote that Wells wanted a, "modeled plate for Woolworth's." A nine-inch plate and teacup were modeled and a few samples were made. Wells took the samples and some sketches to New York to pitch the new shape. Woolworth's approved and the Orleans shape was born. Another instance was on December 8, 1938, Rhead wrote Wells wanted a "spiral shape modeled for January." The end result was Serenade in pastel glazes.
The photo on the left comes from a 1926 Homer Laughlin catalog. Pictured left to right are: William Edwin Wells, Jr (1890-1934, Joseph M.'s younger brother), Frank Flowers, Joseph M. Wells, and James Miles.
At the time this photo was taken, William Edwin was the superintendent of plant 5 and Joseph was superintendent of plant 6. Flowers oversaw the plants in East Liverpool, and Miles was over plant 4.
The photo on the right is of E. L. Torbert (left) of the Onodaga Pottery Co. and J. M. Wells at a U. S. Potters Association meeting in 1951.
Joseph M. Wells died on April 24, 1970. On the day of his funeral on April 27th, Wells was memorialized in The Evening Review:
The end of another chapter in the history of the pottery industry is marked with the death of Joseph M. Wells, longtime Homer Laughlin China Co. official and spokesman for the industry.
His career spanned the era in which ware manufacturing achieved its peak and began to suffer from the inroads of foreign competition and plastics.
He applied himself to the preservation of the industry, and was a respected spokesman for the manufacturers at Washington and around the labor bargaining table. He also carried many civic responsibilities.
Joe Wells is dead, but he leaves behind many memories in the world of clay and kiln.