This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
Isn't it fun to make mud pies?
You get dreadfully dirty, but no natural child minds that. Mama is apt to say that washing dishes is a much more useful thing to do. But you can tell her that if no one had ever made mud pies there would be no pretty white dishes to wash. Bricks to build houses, drain tiles, stone jugs, common dishes and the most delicate painted china cups and saucers and vases and doll-heads, were just mud pies once. They are all made of clay, ground up into flour, mixed with water, shaped and patted and baked in an oven.
You know what pretty things the little tots in the kindergarten can model in clay. All they need is clay and water and ten clever little fingers. So you can readily believe that the wildest people who lived in caves and dressed in skins, and who had no tools at all, could shape bowls and jugs that would hold water and bake them in the sun. There was nothing the people of the earth learned to make earlier except, perhaps, the weaving of baskets of reeds and grasses. Some tribes wove baskets first and lined them with unbaked clay. When they tried to cook meat or grain in these vessels the baskets, of course, were burned. But how surprised and pleased they must have been to find that the clay lining was hardened by the fire.
Then they found that these pots and bowls and jugs were apt to crack if the tiniest bit of gravel was left in the clay. And they found that some clays turned red when baked, some stayed yellow or white. They learned to pound the clay to powder, to melt it in water, to strain out all the little stones through baskets or grass sieves, to dry the melted clay, work it to a powder again, sift it, add water to make a smooth dough, shape the vessels by turning them around and around, bake them in pits, paint them and glaze them with a kind of glass. Indeed, some very simple people in many parts of the world, learned a little at a time by just having to learn, nearly all the things we know about pottery making today. The American Indians learned these things, the Chinese and the people of ancient Egypt.
Unless these vessels of burned clay were broken by accident, they would last as long as stone. So in caves and tombs, the oldest kinds of pottery have been found in many parts of the world. Some of them are beautiful in shape, in color and in ornamentation, and by studying them we can learn a great deal about the lives and the ideas of peoples who had no written language. Many people think we cannot make any better or more beautiful pottery today than was made hundreds and thousands of years ago. But we can make it more easily and cheaply by machinery, and in many more varieties and shapes, so that everybody can have quantities of it.
In old, old times people mixed the clay and water with their hands and feet. You would have liked that. Mud is so nice and cool and "squshy" between the fingers and toes. But it was rather slow work. The first machine used in pottery making of today is a kind of big coffee mill for grinding the clay to powder. It is called a pug-mill. Pug is from "pucker," a German, or perhaps Dutch word that means to beat, to pound. Very likely the Dutch people invented the pug-mill, for Dutch sailors brought the first "china-ware" from China itself to Europe, and then learned how to make the delicate white ware themselves. But when they had made it they called it porcelain, from the Portuguese name for a shell, "porcellana." Thin white "china" is much like a shell.