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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hemco , Hemcoware, Hemcolite, Westinghouse Saga - Early Melamine and Melmac Dinnerware

Photo Courtesy of Cathigreen on Etsy!
Hemco Plastics Division 
of Bryant Electric Company
Bridgeport, Connecticut

Hemco's Early Plastics
Hemco was one of the earlier plastic molders who had it's plastics in the form of dinnerware on the market for industrial and consumer use. 

Early examples of Beetleware "mania" included hard plastic kiddie dishes and Mickey Mouse mugs. In Newsweek Magazine circa 1939, Hemco proudly explained they had hundreds of new dies for producing such items.  A small picture of Mickey Mouse next to the article read, "We hired salesman who knew dishes rather than switches and plugs...and almost before we knew it, we had an important new business on our hands."

Kiddie dishes like this were mass produced by Hemco Plastics Division.
In 1943, Modern Plastics reported, "Hemco is molding a wide variety of fighting material. This includes plastic inner helmets, coil forms for military radio, plastic bomb loading funnels, radio parts, fuze noses, airplane instrument cases, ship lighting reflectors....."    Add that to the already evident masses of plastic cups, utensils, divided kiddie dishes,  and kitchen items.
Rare 1939 Hemco Plastics were beautiful in color and styling.  This item was referred to as Beetleware. Credit: MOMA

Hemco's Industrial & Consumer Dinnerware 
Sometime during this entire era, contracts with the aviation industry were also evident for dinnerware.  We can see by viewing these rare early examples made by Hemco (identical to Watertown Ware shapes for the navy) here on fellow researcher Christopher McPherson's wonderful Plastic Living Site.    Fellow researcher Robin Ptacek, an avid collector of early plastics has assembled beautiful collection of early brightly-colored Hemco.  Colors so radiant such as bright reds, greens, yellows and blues are becoming harder and harder to find.  Some of the earlier wares were Beetle, Polystryne, and Melamine.   It is not uncommon to find an old wicker hamper full of a picnic set marked Hemco!
Rare Hemcoware Cups (probably melamine) as offered by Cathigreen on Etsy!
Hemco was Competing with Westinghouse (it's owner)
In 1946, it is stated that through "Plastics Business" the Bryant Electric Company, Westinghouse owns Hemco Plastics Company, a leading custom molder of plastics.   So one must ponder the question was Westinghouse using Hemco to mold it's many radio cases, fan parts, and  washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator parts?

Westinghouse radio by VintageRatz on Etsy.  Makes you wonder was Hemco molding the cases?
What's even stranger, Westinghouse is also doing their own melamine and melmac branded dishes to compete against it's own Hemcoware! Pieces can be found marked Westinghouse, Ovation, Newport, Darien, and more.....
Photo from TheCreekHouse on Etsy showing a Westinghouse backstamp!

Photo and this Westinghouse creamer/sugar set available from TheCreekHouse on Etsy!
Westinghouse's other line "Newport" divided bowl by RetroChalet on Etsy!
Ovation line by Westinghouse offered at JetSetVintage on Etsy!

Hemco's Three Lines of Dinnerware: 

Several brands produced for the Hemco line were marked Hemco, Hemcoware, and Hemcolite.  Curiously, some of these lines were melamine, and others made of a more ridgid polystryene-type material.
This photo from Black Market Antiques, and is that of a "HemcoLite" cup and saucer.

I originally thought that the "Hemcolite" line was indeed the Polystryene line, (hence lighter in weight making it perfect for picnic plastics) but examples with all different backstamps have emerged making me wonder just really was going on.  Of course we may fathom the factory could have "forgotten" to change the backstamps, marking the dishes wrong but that theory was debunked when I read in a Consumer Reports magazine of November 1954, it mentions "Hemcoware" as using "improved polystreyene for its cups."   So just what was melamine and what was polystrene and why was there so much mixing and matching going on?   It's so confusing as some Hemco was Beetleware, Polystryene, or Melamine! Geesh!
Hemcoware Plates, thinner than most 1950's melamine were great for picnic use also, these sold by RetroChalet on Etsy! 
I do have a set of nicely sturdy Hemco dinnerware in my camp in Maine.  They are thicker than these above Hemcoware dinner plates, and resemblant of most 1950's thick melmac.  It is unclear why there were so many variants of Hemco, unless Westinghouse just wanted to cover all angles and all markets, which was probably smart at the time.

Hemcolite cups as offered by ZebrasandBubblegum on Etsy! See below for same molds from Long Island!
Hemco's Molds are Found in Long Island, NY: 
I'm afraid we won't get the answers to these questions, as Hemco molds turned up in Long Island City, NY and are backstamped as such. I have been unable to find out a lot of information, except finding a few rare dolls on this site, dolls circa 1949-1961 which begs the question WHEN during that time did HEMCO PLASTICS sell their molds to PMA Corp?    If you compare they are dead-ringers for Hemco molds, but molded in a polystrene.

The same exact Hemco plates and cups, except made of a cheaper, thinner polystrene were also sold by RetroChalet but backstamped NY Plastic Molded Arts Corp, Long Island NY.  
More from Long Island, NY.

Additional Information: 

Hemco at MOMA 1939 Examples found here

Read about Bryant Electric Company on Wikipedia
History of Bridgeport, Connecticut on Wikipedia
Plastic Molded Arts Corp (doll information)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks for posting such a good blog having very helpful information.

  3. Got my first complete dinner set serves 6 great shape.


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