History of the Flint Faience Tile Company

The handmade tiles of the Flint Faience Tile Company grew out of the fledgling 1920s auto industry.

The solarium at the Strong House is full of colorful Faience tiles, and capped by panelized plaster that was fully restored by the homeowners.

During the early years of General Motors, ceramic tile became a quirky offshoot of the auto manufacturing process. Albert Champion, who manufactured and sold spark plugs for General Motors (Champion Ignition Company and later AC Spark Plug Company), realized that kilns used to create the porcelain caps on spark plugs could be damaged by repeated cycles of heating and cooling as they were turned off at the end of the day. So he devised a way to keep the kilns consistently hot, using them to fire colorful tiles during off-hours from spark plug production. Thus the Flint Faience & Tile Company was born in 1921.

Tile production started off with a range of standard field tiles in colorful hues, but the company soon added increasingly elaborate designs to the mix—geometrics, stylized florals, animals, even faces. The tiles’ popularity quickly grew far and wide—including an installation in the Presidential Palace of Peru. Flint Faience tiles were prominently featured in the homes GM’s early executives built in Flint, such as the E.T. Strong House.

Flint Faience tiles came in many varieties, glazed and unglazed. This 1929 brochure advertises a bounty of unglazed Vitrocraft tiles. (Photo: Arcalus Archive)

Despite their popularity, Flint Faience tile production ceased in 1933, when GM reverted the kilns to spark-plug production full-time, owing to increased demand for automobiles. The tiles remain valuable and extremely collectible. Learn more about them in the book Flint Faience Tiles A to Z by Margaret Carney and Ken Galvaz (Schiffer, 2004).

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Tags: | Online Exclusive Demetra Aposporos Joseph Hilliard Michigan OHJ August/September 2012 Old-House Journal tile

By Demetra Aposporos

Demetra Aposporos was Editor of Old-House Journal from 2008 until 2014, during which time she bylined many articles. Her specialties became the decorative arts and preservation news and policy. Before OHJ, Aposporos worked for years at National Geographic. She was Historic District Commissioner for the City of Flint, Michigan, when her family lived there 2012–14. Aposporos is currently Editorial Officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts and resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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