When the home-town pottery plant closed down in 1927, little Scio, Ohio (it rhymes; pop. 1,450) began to die. When Lewis P. Reese, a rough-handed West Virginia pottery worker, scraped up $8,000 and bought the plant at a sheriff's sale one day in 1933, the town came to life again. Reese thought he knew how to save Scio; he was sure he could mass-produce teacups, saucers, plates, etc. for 5¢ apiece and compete with cheap Japanese chinaware.

His plan worked so well that by 1946 he had become the biggest U.S. producer of...

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