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.
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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.)
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Wagner Manufacturing Company
Click here to read about why you should cook with cast iron…
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.
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.
Beginning of the End
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.
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 my blog entry for some of the finer points of Enameled Cast Iron vs. Cast Iron.
Here are some comments from our old blog:
SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 AT 8:23 AM
Why is that Wagner 1058 Skillet silver on the outside? (the top picture) It is one of the aluminum skillets? J
SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 AT 1:23 PM
It isn’t aluminum but is just the raw cast iron. It was actually covered, and I mean covered, with black, gunk-y, cracked seasoning. So I had no idea that the hammered finish was there. After a few hours with some oven cleaner the beautiful, hammered finish was exposed.
Thanks for the question.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2013 AT 7:12 PM
How much is a Wagner Ware 1060 A worth?
SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 AT 5:02 PM
how much is a fat free fryer worth 12 or 121/2 inch with ridges.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 10:22 AM
It depends a lot on the condition but it could be from $50 – $170++. Check out eBay periodically to get a good idea. Also, is that one of the deep versions?
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 8:45 PM
is more like 11 inchs. is 2 inchs deep. good condition. does wagner make lids. would like to buy a lid.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 AT 6:26 PM
Hi Diane! Thanks for stopping by here again.
I think you could have a nice piece on your hands! What are the markings on the bottom? Can you tell me the labeling and lettering? Wagner does have lids and you’d have to watch eBay for a week or two to find the right one for you. The prices range from about $9 – over $50. Let me know if you need help locating a suitable lid.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 8:54 PM
says 11 3/8 is the size and 2 inchs deep. does wagner make lids?
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 11:39 PM
i have my mothers corn bread pan, wagner c heavy. beleive from 1950′s any information about it.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 11:53 PM
what is older wagner ware or wagner. i have a wagner fat free fryer and corn bread pan. think the corn bread pan c is from the 1950′s
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 AT 6:32 PM
Hey Diane! Nice to see you back here. Can you tell me what is written on the bottom of the cornbread pan? That’s super cool that you have it. What is your standard cornbread recipe?
SEPTEMBER 27, 2013 AT 8:13 PM
My dad has a Wagner 1891 original cast iron tea pot that is rustled or deteriorated inside Frm yrs of keeping water in it on their wood burning stove. Is it possible to clean the inside and is it of any value?
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 AT 6:46 PM
Hi Margaret! Thanks for coming by.
Well, you can clean the inside but it will definitely take some work. Review some of the processes here. There’s another step after the oven cleaner sessions where you treat the rusted area with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. The acid of the vinegar helps to remove the rust.
However, the kettle might not be a “collectible” though it will probably hold some sentimental value. So, in the 1990s the company that owned the Wagner name started to make “The Wagner’s 1891 Original Cast Iron” series in commemoration of the original cast iron company. The bottom line is that if the tea pot says “1891 Original” then, against logic, the cast iron piece is probably only about 20 years old. Anyway, let me know about what the bottom of the tea pot says.
JULY 13, 2014 AT 8:22 PM
I inherited my grandmothers deep skillet which looks just like the one at the top of this site. However when trying to clean it up and put in the oven to season it the sheen turned to a thick glue like substance. I’ve no idea how to clean it. It doesn’t scrape out easily at all
OCTOBER 3, 2013 AT 12:33 AM
I’ve always favored cast iron, and particularly Wagner or Griswold because they had smooth finishes to cook on. Easier to care for too. The “L” word while they have a fine line-up are too rough. I miss the craftsmanship. Thanks for a great site. Now to find steel skillets.
OCTOBER 7, 2013 AT 12:01 PM
Hi Greg, Thanks for coming by… You have precisely described the way I found Wagner and Griswold. I had a small set of Lodge cookware that I assembled over the last few years and they were just so rough. I eventually sanded down the interior of the pans and skillets to smooth them out. It’s remarkable how nice the Lodge pans are after sanded them. You got it right – a craftsman used to sand each one of the pieces of cookware down. The difference is really something.
What’s your prize piece of cast iron cookware?
OCTOBER 3, 2013 AT 12:40 AM
Margaret’s cleaning question reminded me of something I did 20 years ago. I had a dutch oven that was seriously deteriorated with thick rust to boot. I worked at a place that had a shot peening machine. I put the oven in it and in minutes shot peening cleaned the oven to bare clean metal ready for a wash and seasoning. I tried for 2 days to clean it before that. We still use it to this day.
OCTOBER 7, 2013 AT 11:05 AM
Looking for a polished inside cast iron skillet that has handle with opposing loop on other side. My first one 10 to 10 1/8 inches was a Wagner and was stolen! Ugh. I like the ease of two hand pick up with the loop. Know where I could find one. I still have the lid from my old one, but if one is available with lid – I could always use an extra lid.
OCTOBER 7, 2013 AT 12:09 PM
Hi Jill – Oh, no. Sorry to hear about the theft.
eBay is the place to go for vintage cast iron since eBay is kind of like a consolidation of all the garage & estate sales across the country. There is a huge range of prices and quality. Try a search like “wagner 10 inch skillet” or “wagner #8 skillet” and you should have 10 or more results. Monitor for a couple weeks and if you’re savvy, you can set up an email alert to send you a message when new items are listed that meet your criteria.
Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks!