Niloak Pottery Company first began in 1897 as a local pottery production in Benton, Arkansas, by brothers Charles, Paul and Lee Hyten. They made a business of creating churns, jugs, chicken feeders, crocks, and pots for utilitarian use by the citizens of their town. By 1902, Paul and Lee had broken from the family business, leaving Charles with sole ownership. He changed the company name to Eagle Pottery Company in 1907.
The Eagle Pottery Company grew to initial regional fame with the production of what is now known to be the company’s most famous and popular line of art pottery: Niloak. Niloak’s name comes from the word ‘kaolin’ spelled backwards; kaolin is a type of clay that was used by the company to produce their ceramics. The 1910 Niloak line is distinguished by its swirled neriage finish, a technique that was also implemented by the Ouachita Pottery Company, a competitor that was located in nearby Hot Springs. Though Ouachita Pottery had begun producing neriage pottery as early as 1906, Niloak Pottery’s adaptation became more popular.
Aside from expected growth and an increased employment of potters and greater production rates, there is not much known about the company’s history between 1915 and 1922. By 1922, the fad of neriage pottery had significantly increased, sending Charles and some of his chosen employees out on the road to promote their pieces, marketing the Niloak line to store owners across the United States. With their endeavors came a rise in public interest. Competing pottery companies around the nation sought to produce imitation neriage pieces, causing Niloak Pottery Company to trademark the swirled technique by 1928.
After taking out loans to produce their next line of pottery, called Hywood pottery, Niloak was hit with the hardships of the Great Depression that was just beginning to unravel. The Hywood line was comprised of over 400 new pieces, which were seemingly impossible to sell under the financial oppression of the times. The Niloak Pottery Company fell into receivership by 1934, at which point a group of businessmen from Little Rock bought them out. The company failed to produce or sell much for the next six years.
World War II brought some relief to the company’s slowing, as they were contracted to produce ceramic jars and porcelain electrical insulators for wartime efforts, as well as mugs for use by American soldiers. Yet, the small successes would not last long. A fire befell the company in 1945, which delayed production and, therefore, sales. This would ultimately result in the shuttering of the manufactory in 1947. Today, wares produced by the Niloak Pottery Company are very collectible, as the once-famous company’s lifetime was short, but greatly fashionable and beloved.