MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - For our This is Home segment this week, we look at a busy business in Marietta that flies under the radar to many here in the area but has a footprint in every corner of the country.
Sewah Studios has been operating since 1927 in the Pioneer city. It produces from scratch almost 80 percent of the historical markers scattered across the United States, including Ohio and West Virginia.
Historical markers tell us all about significant places with a short description, sometimes with as little information as a tweet. But they’ve become almost as famous as the history they represent, and they get their start right here in Marietta.
"Sewah Studios is America’s premiere cast-aluminum historical marker manufacturer," owner Brad Smith said.
The business started back in 1927 as a pipe dream.
"It started from a vision of a man who wanted to see history and art come together," Smith said.
Smith’s grandfather later bought into the business from the original founder and eventually took the reins and led it toward what it is today.
The business experienced its first real boom after the creation of the interstate system.
"That really played well for our product because as the interstates were going in place, small towns were losing those small highways like 821," Smith added, "so our markers were a real way for small communities to entice and bring people in to their community and you know show them their history and give them something visual to move around the town in."
Today the business is booming with over 1200 orders a year and a steady queue of around 100 to 200 orders.
The process of making the markers is pretty straighforward, but takes technique and patience.
After receiving an order, workers begin putting together the lettering for the inscription.
"What they’re doing is they're picking out the lettering, putting them in trays," Smith said, "making a mark on the paper and then moving to the next line, so it’s really just what we call picking out all of the text."
Next, workers pick out the cast template, which differs based on state or request and use melted liquid aluminum to create the mold.
"What they’re going to is they’ve got the aluminum in the pouring ladle," Smith explained, "they’re going to fill that up, fill the small one, then they’re going to walk over to here and do the pour into those small holes."
This step takes strength and concentration to make sure to not spill any of the aluminum or the mold is scrapped and you have to start over.
After it dries, workers scrape off the sand and reveal the base.
The studio handles orders from all across the world with just around 25 employees.
"These guys really pour their heart and souls into these markers," Smith said, "they understand what they are, what they mean. they’re not just coming to work jamming out stop signs."
After the marker gets cleaned up a bit, it’s sent off for coating and then painting with the level of custom creativity varying depending on state.
Smith says the finished product is always something to see.
"Here they start out in a can of paint and through all of this labor and skill, they’re handcrafted into the beautiful works of art." Smith added. "Man it’s like turning on a neon light switch when they go out to their historic site."
Smith promised himself that when he took over the business, it would stay in Marietta.
"Not changing the way we’ve made it and you know, Sewah studios and Marietta are just, they’re so one in the same,"
The shop has been at its current location for 60 years.
Smith says he’s proud of the impact their simple markers have had on history itself and hopes their product will continue to inform and make everyone who comes across them feel like our history is home.