1951 - American Lava Corp.
American Lava

From a scan of a very large photograph donated to the Chattanooga History Center.
A 1951 aerial view of the intersection in between Manufacturers Road and Cherokee Boulevard.

The American Lava Corporation

The pictured location was purchased in 1936, thus the art deco entrance. American Lava was established in 1902 by Paul John Kruesi, whose Swiss immigrant father worked with Thomas Edison in creating the first phonograph and was the primary mechanic on several other patented innovations.

The elder John Kruesi was present during the first successful demonstration of the phonograph.

When Edison’s voice emanated ‘Mary had a little lamb…’ from the machine, Kruesi exclaimed ‘Mein Gott in Himmel!” (Translation: God in heaven!). American Lava made ‘German Lava Burners’ which as far as I can tell were acetylene burners that utilized lava as a ceramic insulator.

World War I

Apparently, American Lava was German owned, and upon the United States entry into WWI, fell under enemy ownership status and was sold by the Alien Property Custodian to American interest.

Yet, after some combination of lawyers, accountants and an apparent temporary board of directors (including Z. C. Patten Jr.) - a Paul J. Kruesi was shown as the purchaser on Dec. 28, 1918 for $80,000. Perhaps the original stockholders were all German?

In the early 1950s, the American Lava Corporation hired around 1,500 workers in the production of ceramic insulators for electrical equipment. In 1953, 3-M Co. acquired American Lava through a 5 million dollar stock deal.

Source: Report of the Alien Property Custodian: Letter from the Alien Property Custodian Transmitting in Response to a Senate Resolution of January 5, 1922

Lives on...

The building remains looking much like it did in 1951 - now hosting the Business INCubator providing space and resources for startup businesses.

And to complete connecting the dots through history - The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce presents The Kruesi Award yearly - which recognizes companies for innovative products, services and business practices that have been created and implemented by businesses in the Chattanooga area.

It is named for the Kruesi family - the same that started American Lava here in 1902.

Souvenirs of the Past

My grandfather worked with American Lava/3M for many years - retiring just before the plant was closed in 1981. Occasionially he would bring home some neat ceramics samples - a few of which remain in my possession.

49th Anniversary Commemorative Medallion
Image source: Chattanooga History Center



The Chattanooga History Center ceased operations after failure to be fully funded. Its former collections of materials were transferred to the Chattanooga Public Library (CPL) and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) on June 12, 2017. The UTC Library apparently chose not to continue to share this video publicly. Some items are maintained online at the Chattanooga History Collections.

From the Chattanooga History Center

Digitized promotional industrial film from American Lava, focusing on Alsimag Custom Made Technical Ceramics. Film features information about the company and its products. Produced by Continental Film Productions. 29 minutes and 32 seconds. This was digitized from 16mm film by the Tennessee Archives of Moving Images and Sounds (TAMIS) in Knoxville, Tennessee. "American Lava: Alsimag Custom Made Technical Ceramics," monaural sound with a variable area soundtrack, color. Original was 16mm acetate film, 1200 feet, 30 minutes.