Wagner Ware Cast Iron: The Ultimate Guide

Wagner Ware is in my opinion the way to go as far as vintage cast iron is concerned. There is just no beating the quality. In fact, when people say “they just don’t make them like they used to,” I just assume that they’re talking about Wagner Ware. 

But there is a lot to the Wagner Ware story - and the Wagner Manufacturing Company - and quite a few things to consider if you’re looking to purchase, restore or cook with 100 year old cast iron. 

This article touches upon absolutely everything you need to know about Wagner Ware, the absolute best vintage cast iron out there. Here is Wagner Ware cast iron, the ultimate guide.

What is Wagner Ware?

“Wagner Ware” was a brand name of the Wagner Manufacturing Company, a family-owned manufacturer of cast iron and aluminum products based in Sidney, Ohio. The Wagner Manufacturing Company was active from its founding in 1891 until its acquisition by the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1952.

Wagner Ware

The Wagner Ware brand included a wide assortment of cast iron kitchen products, and was known for producing extremely high quality, yet affordable, cast iron. Wagner Ware’s line of superior cast iron included dutch ovens, muffin pans, waffle irons and even griddles. 

But in addition to these super smooth, high quality products, the one item that is perhaps the most famous, ubiquitous, and cherished by collectors and cast iron enthusiasts alike, is the Wagner Ware cast iron skillet.

Wagner Ware is also commonly referred to as Wagner Ware Sidney - in reference to the location of manufacture - and Wagner Ware Cast Iron. Don’t be fooled though, as each of these names refers to the same line of high quality products. 

Indeed, one reason why the brand is often referred to by multiple names may be due in part to the relative frequency with which the logo changed over the years. Luckily for us, this changing logo is one of the best ways to date vintage cast iron - but more on this later.  

Is Wagner Ware cast iron good?

The short answer - yes, Wagner Ware cast iron is widely regarded as exceptionally high quality cookware. 

The long answer, of course, is also yes. Wagner Ware cast iron is fantastic, and here’s why. When the Wagner Manufacturing Company began producing cast iron kitchenware, their focus was on quality. 

This means that today, most vintage Wagner Ware cast iron products still in circulation are as good as they were the day they were cast. In fact, in an often quoted advertisement, the company wrote: 

“We do not strive to manufacture hollow ware as cheaply as possible, but as good as it can be made. We cannot afford to put on the market ware that will not sustain our reputation. The name ‘Wagner’ is cast on the bottom of each piece of ware.”

The fact is, this wasn’t simply empty rhetoric to sell a few pans. Wagner Ware products really were made to last, which is why there are so many vintage Wagner Manufacturing Company products still in circulation today, like the one below that I recently used to make filet mignon!

Filet Mignon cooked in Wagner Ware.

In fact, I recently dated my own Wagner Ware skillets and concluded that my largest, an 8 inch skillet - one that I use on a near daily basis - is over 100 years old! 

Is vintage cast iron better?

While newer cast iron products are convenient and affordable, vintage cast iron has a number of advantages - like thickness of material, smooth casting and attention to detail - that make it superior to contemporary, mass produced cast iron kitchenware.

Vintage cast iron was made to last, as evidenced by the fact that there is so much vintage cast iron still in circulation. And many of these pans are well over 100 years old.

Shrimp in Wagner Ware.

The workers at the Wagner Manufacturing Company factory in Sidney, Ohio paid specific attention to each piece, casting and then machine smoothing each item. You can easily see the difference this kind of skill makes when juxtaposing a vintage cast iron skillet next to one of its modern colleagues.

Whereas modern cast iron skillets are mass produced and often have casting flaws, pits or bubbles, Wagner Ware cast iron never left the factory if it wasn’t perfect. 

Of course, there are modern cast iron manufacturers out there making great kitchenware. Le Creuset comes to mind as one of these. But even Le Creuset coats their cast iron in enamel, which is convenient, to be sure, but also hides any manufacturing imperfections. 

So while you can still buy newer cast iron of the same quality as vintage, you’ll be paying a lot more. And if there is cast iron out there that has already passed the test of time - and passed through the hands of previous generations - why not stick with it?

Wagner Ware Sidney history

The Wagner Manufacturing Company has a long, complicated history that begins with its 1891 incorporation in Sidney, Ohio under the ownership of Wagner brothers Bernard and Milton, and “ends” with its sale to the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1952.

The original Wagner Manufacturing Company foundry, in Sidney, Ohio.

The original Wagner Manufacturing Company foundry, in Sidney, Ohio.

While the Wagner name certainly continued during the second half of the 20th century, the Wagner Ware heyday was without a doubt during the early decades of the company’s history. These were the golden years of Wagner cast iron production, and the period during which the products most sought after by collectors were made. 

Following acquisition by the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1952, the Wagner Ware brand was quickly shuffled between owners, passing through a number or corporate hands until finding its current resting place with American Culinary, who until recently at least nominally continued to produce both Wagner and Griswold branded products. 

Of course, the products that were later produced under the Wagner name are not the same as those wonderful pans cherished by collectors, and produced in the old Sidney, Ohio factory. 

After the Wagner brand was sold, the factory was used by a few unremarkable manufacturers before being completely abandoned in 2008. 

The following is a more detailed timeline of the history of the Wagner Ware Manufacturing company, and the Wagner Ware Sidney brand:

  • 1890 - Architect Joseph Altenbach begins construction on the Wagner manufacturing complex, in Sidney, Ohio.
  • 1891 - The Wagner Manufacturing Company is officially incorporated, founded and collectively owned by brothers Bernard and Milton Wagner. 
  • 1892 - The company begins producing nickel-plated ware, in addition to the cast-iron kitchenware already in production.
  • 1894 - The Wagner Manufacturing Company adds aluminum cookware to their product inventory, becoming one of the first kitchenware companies in history to do so.  
  • 1897 - The company begins to acquire competitors, beginning with Sidney Hollow Ware. William Wagner joins the company.
  • 1903 - The Wagner Manufacturing Company sells Sidney Hollow Ware back to the original owner, Phillip Smith.
  • 1913 - The Wagner Manufacturing Company begins global distribution for its cast iron, nickel-plated, and aluminum kitchenware.
  • 1920s - The Wagner Manufacturing Company controls approximately 60% of the kitchenware market. It has by this time added the brand names Wagner Ware, National, Long Life, Wardway and Ward’s Cast Iron to its holdings.
  • 1930s - In the early 1930s, the company added its Magnalite line of cast aluminum products, made from aluminum alloy.
  • 1933 - The company employs industrial designer John Gordon Rideout to re-design Wagner products as a hedge to declining sales during the Great Depression.
  • 1946 - The Wagner brothers’ heirs begin divesting their holdings in the company.
  • 1952 - The Wagner Manufacturing Company is sold to the Randall Company of Cincinnati, a car parts manufacturer.
  • 1957 - The Randall Company’s Wagner division acquires Griswald Manufacturing.
  • 1959 - The Randall Company is sold to Textron.
  • 1969 - Textron sells off the Wagner and Griswold divisions to General Housewares Corporation.
  • 1996 - The General Housewares Corporation sells the rights to Wagner and Griswold to the Slyman Group.
  • 2000 - The Wagner and Griswold lines have fallen into receivership, and are bought by the American Culinary Corporation.
  • 2000s - The American Culinary Corporation, based in Willoughby, Ohio and committed to American manufacturing, produced Wagner and Griswold brands in their Ohio factory, but appear to have closed permanently after only a brief run. 

Although the Wagner brand name continued to be used throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the most sought after and “authentic” Wagner cast iron pieces come from the last decade of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century. 

These pieces are incredibly old, but manufactured at a time when care and craftsmanship was put into every single piece leaving the Sidney, Ohio factory. In fact, there are plenty of neat advertisements from this era for Wagner Ware if you do a simple search.

Wagner Ware vintage ad.

One extremely dated advertisement for Wagner Ware even claimed:

For over a quarter of a century, Wagner Cooking Utensils have been the pride of thousands of particular housewives. They have such a distinct refinement and obvious quality, combined with a sturdy usefulness, that they appeal to the woman who takes pride in her home."

Wagner Ware Vintage Advertisement

Let’s rejoice in the fact that Wagner Ware products of this era are still around, and as tough as the day they were made, even as the gendered language that once sold their products has fallen out of fashion. 

Do they still make Wagner Ware cast iron?

Not really, American Culinary bought the rights to Wagner Ware in 2000, and produced Wagner branded cast iron for a few years in the early 2000s, but eventually closed production.

Vintage Wagner Ware.

After the company was sold to the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1952, it changed hands a number of times before rights to the Wagner and Griswold brand names were purchased by American Culinary. 

Unfortunately, American Culinary seems to have gone defunct, as there is no evidence that the company is still producing kitchenware, and their factory in Willoughby, Ohio has permanently closed.

Where is Wagner Ware Sidney made?

Until 1952, Wagner Ware Sidney was made in Sidney, Ohio, where the company began producing cast iron kitchenware in 1891. Wagner products were later made by American Culinary, located in Willoughby, Ohio, but as of 2015, the company has gone defunct.

It seems as though the Wagner and Griswold lines of kitchenware are finally no more, which is even more reason to cherish the vintage pieces still in circulation. 

After a brief revival in 2000 by American Culinary, a company based in Willoughby, Ohio and committed to American manufacturing, production on Wagner kitchenware has once again gone dark.

How do you date Wagner Ware?

The best way to date Wagner Ware is by carefully examining the Wagner Ware logo on the bottom of your cast iron. The “Wagner,” “Wagner Ware” and “Sidney O” logos appeared and disappeared, were redesigned and repositioned on the bottom of the pan every few years beginning with  the company’s founding in 1891.

From 1891 until 1959, the company changed their logo more than a dozen times. And although you can’t use the logo to establish an exact year of fabrication, these markings can be used to narrow its casting down to the correct decade. 

I recently dated my collection of Wagner Ware, and found that my largest and most commonly used pan, a 10 inch skillet, was manufactured sometime between 1915 and the early 1920s!

Aside from the writing at the bottom of your pan, you can also check a few additional design features that changed through the years. For example, one design change occurred in 1935 when the company removed the heat ring from the bottom of their pans.

1897 - 1903

Markings on the bottom of the pan with the “SIDNEY” logo in either straight or arched letters were made in the Sidney Hollow Ware factory - after acquisition by the Wagner Manufacturing Company. These pans were produced some time between 1897 - 1903.

On these pans, the arc “SIDNEY” logo appears toward the top of the skillet, farthest from the handle. The straight across “SIDNEY” logo is generally centered. 

Oftentimes, there may even be a star printed below the “SIDNEY” arch.

1897 - 1903

Markings on the bottom of the pan with the “SIDNEY” logo in either straight or arched letters were made in the Sidney Hollow Ware factory - after acquisition by the Wagner Manufacturing Company. These pans were produced some time between 1897 - 1903.

On these pans, the arc “SIDNEY” logo appears toward the top of the skillet, farthest from the handle. The straight across “SIDNEY” logo is generally centered. 

Oftentimes, there may even be a star printed below the “SIDNEY” arch.

1891 - 1910

Markings on the bottom of the pan with the “WAGNER” logo in arched, capital letters appearing toward the top of the skillet, farthest from the handle, indicate that the skillet was also among the first products manufactured at the Sidney, Ohio foundry. These products date anywhere from 1891 to 1910.

1891 - 1915

Markings on the bottom of the pan with the “WAGNER” logo in straight, capital letters, centered and slightly raised indicate that the skillet was among the first products manufactured at the Sidney, Ohio foundry. These products date anywhere from 1891 to 1915.

1895 - 1915

During this era, the Wagner Manufacturing Company often used a double arch logo to mark their wares. These markings will have “WAGNER” in arched, capital letters, above “SIDNEY” also in arched capital letters, appearing toward the top of the skillet, opposite the handle. 

There will also be an “O” below “SIDNEY” on these pans, which were manufactured sometime between 1895 and 1915. Wagner Ware skillets with these markings are a bit more rare than other pieces from this era - look out for them!

1910 - 1915

If your cast iron has a straight, centered “WAGNER” logo above a straight, centered, and slightly smaller “SIDNEY O” logo, then this pan would have been manufactured in the five years between 1910 and 1915.

1915 - 1920s

If your cast iron has an arched “WAGNER” logo above a straight, centered and slightly smaller “SIDNEY O” logo, then your pan was most likely made between 1915 and the early 1920s. 

Here’s an example, from my own set:

Vintage Wagner Ware.

Notice how the bottom of this pan also still has a heat ring around the lower perimeter, something that wouldn’t be phased out for another ten years or so. And here’s another close up of that logo, marking the era, and which I used to date this piece:

Wagner Ware Date

During this era, the Wagner Manufacturing Company also produced wares with an arched “WAGNER” logo above a straight, centered “WARE” and straight and centered “SIDNEY O.” These are relatively rare, and date to the same 1915 to early 1920s period.

1920 - 1924

In 1920, the company began marking their pans with a stylized “Wagner Ware” logo in which a scripted W is used for both words, often above a centered “SIDNEY O.” These pans are among the most common vintage Wagner pans out there. 

These pans will also have a heat ring, which is a slightly raised ring along the perimeter of the pan’s bottom. If the size is marked in single digits, the pan would have been made between 1920 and 1924. 

1920 - 1935

If the stylized “Wagner Ware” logo with the scripted W is centered on the bottom of the pan, there is a four digit number indicating size, and a heat ring, then the pan would have been made between 1920 and 1935.

1924 - 1935

The only difference between these cast iron pieces and those described below, with the stylized “Wagner Ware” logo, is the size markings. If your skillet has these markings, a heat ring, and a four digit number indicating size, then it was made between 1924 and 1935. 

Cast iron from this era may also occasionally have been made with the stylized logo within a triangular, pie shape. 

1930 - 1934

For a few years in the early 1930s, Wagner experimented with several re-designs to attract new clients during the Great Depression. These re-designs included pans with the stylized “Wagner Ware” logo within the triangular pie outline, no heat ring, and a four digit size indicator.

1935 - 1959

The logo remains the same as the stylized “Wagner Ware” logo described above, but there will be no heat ring. If your pan is completely flat on the bottom, it would have been manufactured after 1935, but before 1959. 

Here is an example of one such piece. These are among the most common still in circulation these days. Notice the absence of a heat ring, and the stylized “W” in “Wagner” and “Ware.”  

Wagner Ware pan

How much is Wagner Ware worth?

The value of your Wagner Ware will depend on its condition and how rare a piece it is, although the latter will be far more important to pricing your item. Even Wagner Ware in relatively poor condition can still be quite valuable, since cast iron can always be restored fairly easily.  

While most Wagner Ware skillets will be worth anywhere from $20 to $50 for an unrestored skillet, and $40 to even $100 for a fully restored piece, more sought after Wagner Ware collectables, like dutch ovens and skillets with matching lids can be worth $200 or even $300. 

When buying vintage Wagner Ware, the easiest and quickest way to go is through eBay. It’s full of cast iron in all conditions, but prices can be high, and you’ll also need to pay for shipping - and remember, cast iron is heavy, so shipping can be expensive. 

So if you don’t find something in your price range on eBay, my advice would be to give your search some time - there are always nice pieces turning up at yard sales and thrift stores. 

Luckily, there is a lot of vintage cast iron out there - just be patient!

How do I restore Wagner Ware cast iron?

Restoring Wagner Ware cast iron - or any cast iron for that matter - is easier than you think, and is simply a matter of removing crusted on food and rust with iron wool or a similarly tough abrasive brush before re-seasoning with a neutral oil. 

That said, these two measures can be broken down into more methodical steps for returning old yard sale finds to their glory days, and resulting in fully restored, re-seasoned and ready to use cast iron kitchenware. 

We have an entire post dedicated to restoring an old Wagner Ware skillet to their glory days here. Check it out for tips and best practices, and watch as we break the process down, step by step.

How do you clean a Wagner Ware cast iron pan?

The best way to clean Wagner Ware cast iron is immediately after use with hot water and some paper towels. Rinse any remaining food debris from the pan with hot water, and then wipe your pan clean with the paper towel. 

Cleaning Wagner Ware.

If you find that too much food has stuck to the bottom of your pan, you can use a lightly abrasive sponge or brush, like I’m using below - but do not use dish soap! 

There are plenty of abrasive products on the market now being advertised for cast iron, and some of them are pretty cool, like the Ringer, marketed as the “original stainless steel cast iron cleaner.” Imagine a dishcloth made from medieval chain mail armor and you’ve got it.

Lodge also makes a very cool scrubbing brush, available here. But there is also no real need to get fancy, and you can always use simple scouring pads.
Cleaning Wagner Ware.

The only thing that deserves repeating here is to never use dish soap! Dish soap will ruin the seasoning on your cast iron - essentially stripping it of the oils that coat and protect your skillet - meaning you’ll have to completely re-season.

How do you protect a glass top stove from cast iron?

The best way to protect your glass top stove when using cast iron is pretty obvious - be gentle! As long as you don’t drop your cast iron pan directly on the glass top, or slide the pan around on the glass, your stovetop should be just fine. 

Le Creuset on a glass top electric stove.

Le Creuset on a glass top electric stove. Don’t shake it and the glass will be fine!

The truth is, cast iron pans work just as well on glass top electric stoves as they do with gas, although they may take longer to heat up on a glass top stove. Factor this extra time in, start on low when heating your cast iron, and you’ll be happy with the results.

A pan on a glass top electric stove.

Lodge on the same glass top stove above. A special thank you to our readers for contributing the last two photos.

A few more tips for protecting your glass top stove from cast iron:  

  1. 1
    Never slide your cast iron pan on a glass top stove; once your pan is in place, leave it be.
  2. 2
    Always make sure to clean the bottom of your cast iron pan before using it on glass. Food debris can carbonize at the bottom of the pan, leaving a nasty stain on your glass top stove.
  3. 3
    Always wipe your glass top stove down after use.
  4. 4
    Avoid cast iron skillets with heat rings, i.e., those pieces manufactured before 1935. These are not bad for your glass top stove per se, but the ring will reduce contact between the cast iron pan bottom and the stove, severely limiting heat transfer.

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