Staying Power: Thompson Enamel of Bellevue, Ky. is unique in its field since 1890

BELLEVUE, Ky. - What does it take for a family business to survive and thrive for 25 years or more? Our weekly  feature shares the secrets to success of local businesses with staying power.

Thompson Enamel, Inc.

  • What: Manufacturer of jewelry enamel and glass products for many kinds of applications, including enamels for copper, silver, gold and steel.
  • Where: 650 Colfax Avenue, Bellevue, Ky. 41073
  • Founded: 1890 (in Chicago) by Thomas C. Thompson
  • Number of employees: 22

The Thompson Enamel story: 

This is a business that's been around the block, starting in 1890 in Chicago. Thompson Enamel is one of the oldest glass manufacturing companies in the nation. After beginning operations in the Chicago area, it was later purchased by Woodrow W. Carpenter. In 1950, Carpenter started production of enamel in his basement in Frankfort, Ind.

In 1954, the Woodrow W. Carpenter Co. business moved to Cincinnati and, in 1958, Carpenter and Elmer Siebert formed a partnership named Ceramic Coating Company to manufacture industrial enamel products. The factory was in Newport, Ky.

The next change came in 1960, when Ceramic Coating Company and the Woodrow W. Carpenter Company merged and incorporated as The Ceramic Coating Company. In 1962, the business moved to Wilder, Ky. The Ceramic Coating Company purchased the Thomas C. Thompson Company on January 30, 1981 and operated it as a division.

The division moved to Kentucky in 1982 and, in 1996, that division was spun off and incorporated by the Maehren family as Thompson Enamel, Inc. (in January of 1997). Manufacturing was then moved to its present location in Bellevue, Ky.

In 1982, the Ceramic Coating Company, in conjunction with the Thompson Enamel Division, began publishing "Glass On Metal, The Enamelist's Newsletter." The publication was intended to educate users of enamel and explore the science involved in the enameling process.

Thompson Enamel organized The Enamelist Society, which kicked off with a conference, invitational exhibition, juried exhibition and workshops in August of 1987 in Cincinnati. There have been 14 conferences to date, with the next planned to be held near Salem, Mass. in August 2015.

Today, Guido Maehren, grandson of second owner, Woodrow Carpenter, is president of the company.

Q & A with Tom Ellis, product technician. Ellis is instructor for the foundation's enamel workshops and editor of "Glass on Metal" magazine.

Tom Ellis (above left) and images of several of his own pieces. (Courtesy of Ellis)

RELATED: Learn more  about the workshops

1. Who are your customers?

Our customers are local, national and international. They include car, truck and motorcycle emblem manufacturers, pin and badge manufacturers -- including military insignia -- fused art glass studios, school and university art departments, enamel artists, hobbyists and some industrial applications.

2. What's great about doing business in this region?

Being a small business in a small town has the advantage of knowing your local government, police and fire departments and so on. It helps when you have any concerns. Also, Kentucky has a more reasonable tax base than many surrounding states.

3. What's challenging about doing business in this region?

Like many areas of the country, there's an ongoing challenge to educate the public about what enameling is, and to increase the appreciation for handcrafted products that our customers create.

4. What's the key to Thomson's longevity?

Uniqueness and innovative product developments. Woodrow Carpenter was the first to formulate a complete line of artist's lead-free enamels. And our products are very unique. It's a niche market and a niche customer base.

5. Fill in the blank: "I bet you didn't know...." about Thompson Enamel

Thompson Enamel is the only manufacturer of jewelry enamel in the western hemisphere.

Connect with Thompson Enamel: Website ; Phone (859) 291-3800; email info@glass-on-metal.com


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