The word Meerschaum is taken from a German word that means sea foam. It is a Turkish clay used in high grade pipes. Henry likened his light, porous pipes and their cool smoke to that of the more expensive meerschaum pipes and coined the name Missouri Meerschaum for his pipes. Henry and a chemist friend devised an innovative system of applying a plaster-based substance to the outside of the corn cob bowls to make a smoother, more presentable pipe, and was granted a US patent for this process in 1878.
Henry entered into an agreement with a St. Louis firm to distribute his pipes for sale worldwide. But, the firm soon decided they could make more money manufacturing and distributing their own pipes. So they came to Washington and purchased the land adjoining the Missouri Meerschaum Company for their factory. Soon other pipe firms developed and by 1925 there were as many as a dozen corn cob pipe companies in Franklin County, most of them in Washington, turning out thirty million pipes annually in over one hundred designs.
A corn cob pipe can't be made without first growing the corn. When the company began production in the 1860's the by-product of any field corn was usable raw material for the making of corn cob pipes. However, over the years through hybridization, the corn has been modified to produce smaller cobs. It was up to the corn cob pipe industry to develop a corn that produced a bigger cob. This job was given to the University of Missouri, who perfected the corn seed that is used today. Missouri Meerschaum owns about 150 acres that is used for growing corn. Sometimes additional acreage is contracted with local farmers.
After the corn is harvested, it is stored in outdoor bins until it can be shelled. The corn shelling is done with a vintage sheller, as the new equipment is designed to break up the cobs. The cobs are stored in the third floor of the factory for two years. Aging makes the cobs harder and dryer.
He claimed he would hire someone else to break in a pipe, and then would put in a new stem and use it as long as it held together.
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