Bricks - Table of Contents

Up Against the Wall:
An Archaeological Field Guide to Bricks in Western New York

By Michael N. Vogel
President of the Buffalo Lighthouse Association and of the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee

Note: Footnotes have been deliberately omitted because of the problem of plagiarism



Types of Bricks


The Brick Archeologist

Appendix (Listing of Buffalo Brickyards)


This work is intended as a practical examination of brickwork, with a particular emphasis on the use of brick during the historical period in Western New York State.

To provide context for this examination, and to enhance its usefulness and interest for the archaeologist or preservationist, an overview of the history of bricks and brick-making also has been provided.

Topics covered in this study also include brick technology, uses, manufacture, typology, manufacturing, brands, documentation, bricklaying techniques and patterns, dating and conservation.



They said to one another, 'Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.' They used bricks or stone and bitumen for mortar. - Genesis 11:3

Brick is, in its simplest form, burned clay, It is also the oldest building material manufactured by man, and its usage dates back at least six millennia The Bible, for example, not only cites brickmaking near the start of the Book, of Genesis, in a story of the Tower of Babel that is linked to the ziggurats of ancient Babylonia, but also notes that a dispute over brickmaking led directly to the Plagues of Egypt and ultimately to the exodus of the Israelites from the land of the Pharaoh.

The link is more than religious; it has technical aspects as well, and serves to illustrate a commonality that has endured, brick-like, through all those millennia

The Book of Exodus records an ancient labor dispute, sparked by the Israelites' demands for time to worship their God. The governmental response was harsh: "That very day Pharaoh gave the taskmasters and foremen of the people the order: 'You shall no longer supply the people with straw for their brickmaking as you have previously done. Let them gather straw themselves! Yet you shall levy upon them the same quota of bricks as they have previously made. Do not reduce it.' " (Exodus 5:6-8)

The implications of the theological history of this dictum is beyond the scope of this study, but the technology is not. The Bible goes on to point out that this placed a time-consuming burden on the Israelites, whose prime occupation in Egypt was brick-making. This in turn caused the foremen to complain bitterly to Moses, and Exodus records his subsequent appeal to God in the story of the plagues and the withdrawal from Egypt.

But the sequel, from a technological standpoint, was played out in the 19th Century amid the brickyards of the clay-rich Hudson River Valley, source of the building blocks of booming New York- City.

James Wood and culm: There, in 1828, brickmaker James Wood found himself wondering just why the Israelites needed straw to make brick, anyway. While one answer may be that the straw was used as a binder in sun-dried rather than fired brick, Woods came to the conclusion that the only possible use in fired brick would be to facilitate the burning of the bricks, and he began experimenting with fuel additives mixed with the basic clay.

Woods eventually settled on culm, the fine coal dust being wasted by coal mines and coal yards; added to the brick mixture, the coal dust inspired by the Biblical account allowed brick to be burned with less than half the normal amount of cord wood. Kiln firing was reduced from fourteen days to just seven, causing a revolution in the brick industry. From the dawn of time to the modem era, brickmakers have a common bond.

Foundations in Prehistory and Ancient History

Brickmaking and brick usage generally is believed to have originated in the "Fertile Crescent," stretching from the Levant to the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East. The technology, primitive as it was, seems also to have evolved independently in other regions of the world.

The Levant: Permanent communities first began to appear in the Levant between 9,000 and 7,000 B C . in the Neolithic period. Settlements have been excavated in the Jordan Valley, western Iran, Iraq, Syria and Eastern Turkey. "These early settlements often began as-often began as small hamlets of circular or oval pithouses, and eventually grew into substantial communities of rectangular, one-story, mud-brick houses, with several hundred inhabitants," one source notes.

A monopoly on obsidian sources for sharp-edged tools led to an early town at Catal Huyuk, in southern Turkey. Around 6,000 B.C., the town featured a dense concentration of adjoining structures of sun-dried mud brick, set around small courtyards. Eridu, the earliest known settlement in Lower Mesopotamia, was a small mud-brick village dating to 5,300 B. C.

Babylonians / sun-dried bricks: Babylonians used bricks as building materials 6,000 years ago, drawing on the plentiful supply of thick clays and muds deposited by the rivers. The earliest bricks were sun-dried, and some anthropologists see this as a simple extension of the natural process that occurred as silt flats were deposited in annual floods, then dried and cracked by the sun into small blocks that could be shaped into crude building units.

"Puddled clay": Early archaeologists working the tells, or mounds, that marked the world's oldest city sites in Mesopotamia logged "puddled clay" in their excavations but -- in an era focusing more on artifact recovery than site analysis -- paid little attention to the seemingly worthless discovery.

Later generations of archaeologists would see in this clay evidence of brick walls and structures, the last stage of sun-dried brick returning to the earth once more The entire site of the city of Babylon has been described as "little more than a huge mound of dirt created by the breakdown of sun-dried brick from which the huts and houses were made."

Ziggurats / bitumins: Perhaps the earliest monumental structures made by man, the pyramidal ziggurats of the Babylonian civilization, were built "of sun-dried brick faced with kiln-burned glazed brick of many colors," another source notes. "The bricks were held together with bitumins (naturally occurring tars).

Ur: A reference to the first true arch of sun-dried brick, erected in the ancient city of Ur about 4,000 B.C., also contains the first reference to a mortar other than mud -- bitumen slime, used as a binder. The Sumerians, also about 4.000 B.C., developed the residential interior courtyard using walls of mud brick. Mesopotamian domestic architecture developed with the growth of cities, and by the Isin-Larsa period in Ur (2025-1763 B.C.) two-story houses featured wood balconies, paved central courts, and staircases of mud brick.

Egypt: Ancient Egypt also used brick, as noted above. By 3,500 B.C. rectangular mud-brick houses were "quite common" in predynastic Hierakonopolis in southern Egypt, and Late Predynastic mud-brick burial chambers gave way to painted mud-brick panels in the mastabas, or burial palaces of Early, Dynastic/Old Kingdom times.

Kiln-fired brick: Kiln-fired brick, using bricks arranged around a fire, provided more deterioration-resistant building material than sun-dried brick and gradually, gained greater usage, especially after potters in Ur discovered the principle of the closed kiln which allowed control of the heating; the steps of sun-dried brick in Ur's ziggurat were replaced, in about 1500 B.C., with steps of burned brick. The Great Ziggurat also had conical bricks set in its walls, as decorative elements.

India: Brick-lined burials also have been found in the Harappan civilization of ancient India, contemporary with the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Greece and Rome: Bricks and tiles also were made in ancient Greece and Rome. Rome may have gained its brick technology from the precursor Etruscans, believed to have come to central Italy from Asia Minor. Romans formed radial bricks and added a new mortar mixture of lime and volcanic ash, called pozzolana. Roman water and sewer systems used fired-clay pipe, and tile and terra cotta were used for decorative as well as construction elements. The Baths of Hadrian used terra cotta floor-support pillars, and the Pantheon reconstruction in 123 A.D. featured a brick and concrete dome.

Ottoman Turks: The popularity of brick then retraced its journey, passed by the Romans to the Byzantines and, through them, to the Seljuq and Ottoman Turks of Asia Minor.

China: Half a world away, the Great Wall of China (210 B.C.) found expression in sun-dried and burned brick. Chinese brickmaking dates to at least the Lung-shan cultures of the Yellow River Valley, 3,000 B.C. to 1766 B.C.

Adobe: Adobe brick, which combines clay and straw or chopped reeds in a sun-dried mixture, is still used in hot dry regions of the Middle East and Mexico; highly-eroded remains of structures that used millions of sun-dried bricks mark the pre-Inca civilizations of Peru, in a desert region where rain erosion is infrequent and is tied to the occasional El Nino warming of the Pacific.

Adobe in North America: Adobe usage in North America dates back as far as early colonial ruins in the American southwest (the word adobe comes via Spanish from the Arabic at-tub, "the brick," in turn borrowed from to be, the name given by Coptic descendants of the ancient Egyptians to the technique of making mud bricks). The Spaniards learned the technique from invading Saracens who brought it from the Mideast, and adobe construction became a feature of Spanish colonial architecture.

Europe: Europe, however, used brick more extensively than any other region as history unfolded. As the Roman Empire declined, so did brick technology and usage -- until it was revived with a vengeance in the late Middle Ages, with the help of Byzantine and Italian artisans who had preserved brickmaking skills through the intervening centuries.

The Historic Period

The widespread use of brick as a building material is linked in part to regional abundance of clays and paucity of other building materials such as wood. There are other factors in its adoption and use, however, and fireproofing is one of the most important of these factors.

Medieval Western Europe: Medieval Western European cities were especially vulnerable to fires, and wholesale destruction of wooden residential and shop districts often led to rebuilding with more durable materials. London, after the Great Fire of 1666, became a city of brick instead of wood, in a reconstruction process that would be echoed not only in other European cities but also in the New World.

There had been a marked development of brick architecture in Lombardy in the 11th Century, with Byzantine buildings in Italy as early models, The use of bricks spread northward and westward and brickmaking became a major industry in northern Germany, Denmark, the Low Countries and parts of England. Germans especially developed a tradition as Europe's brickmakers.

The New World: When Dutch and English explorers opened the New World to colonization, the trade traveled with the earliest colonists, In North America, one historian noted, "brick was a major building material from the start," as 17th Century colonists from Holland and Britain included brickmakers and brick layers.

1612 Virginia: Bricks were made in Virginia as early as 1612, and bricks became a favorite building material in England's early Virginia colonies while the New England colonies at first used the abundant local wood and stone.

1633 New Amsterdam: The first brick building in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island was built by the Dutch West India Company in 1633. Brick kilns had been established there in 1628, producing "small, yellow, and black brick called Holland brick to distinguish them from the larger British variety.

Mid 17th Century New England: By the mid 17th Century, there was a brickmaking center in Medford, New England. In 1722, Boston switched to brick and stone for domestic buildings after three major fires.

18th Century Hudson River Valley: In the 18th Century, the glacially-deposited clays of the Hudson River Valley combined with the growing needs of New York City to spur development of a brickmaking industry that eventually numbered more than 300 yards; the yards at Haverstraw, where one Jacob VanDyck first made some Dutch-style narrow, yellowish brick in 1771, would make the little town a world leader in brick production with 148 different brands of brick.

In 1810, total U. S. brick production stood at about 95 million; in the single year of 1883, 300 million bricks would be shipped from Haverstraw Bay by 41 brickyards,

Brick presses: As machines supplanted handwork in the production of brick, the industry boomed in the 18th Century. Presses were used to squeeze clay into molds, allowing more uniformity in brick shapes as well as greater production. "To be sure," one archaeological study notes, "hand manufacture of bricks was common during the 17th and l8th centuries in European colonies north of Mexico. Early patents for brick-making devices were issued during the late 18th Century, and by the 1860s numerous, high-volume, and reliable brick-making machines had been developed in the United States as well as in Western European colonies."

The Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 featured brickmaking machines from Canada, England and the United States

1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago: Perhaps the oddest use of brick in American public building -- and undoubtedly the ultimate use of brick as a ballast material for ships -- was reserved to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892-93 in Chicago, Illinois. For that event, held in a transformed swamp at the edge of Lake Michigan, the U.S. Navy faced a dilemma; it wanted to exhibit one of its new battleships, but couldn't bring one from the ocean to the Great Lakes.

The solution was the Illinois, a full-sized, 348-foot battlewagon that mounted the same armament -- four 13-inch guns, eight 6-inch guns, assorted smaller naval guns and six torpedo tubes -- as the oceangoing Massachusetts, Indiana and Oregon. Manned by a crew and treated for more than a year as a real vessel moored alongside a special pier extending into the lake, the Illinois was, in reality, a brick building. Most of the fittings eventually went to sea on real ships, but the Illinois had a hull of brick, clad in armor plating and resting on a heavy timber foundation.

Bricks in Buffalo

Native peoples of the Western New York region relied on wood for construction of longhouses and other structures. The earliest construction materials used by European settlers in this area included both wood and stone; initial construction by the French, from the fortified storehouse known as Fort Conti in 1679 to Louis-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire's trading post at the Niagara portage in 1720, were wooden and the Iroquois stipulated that no structures were to be built of stone.

The "French Castle": Spurred by conflicts with the British, however, the French brought stone from the St. Lawrence River area in 1726 to construct the "French Castle" that still stands at Fort Niagara. The fort at the mouth of the Niagara, the first major European intrusion in Western New York, continued to grow under French and then English rule, but always in stone and wooden buildings and renovations through the 17th Century. The date of the first use of brick in the old stone house was not documented, but historian Brian Leigh Dunnigan notes that "by 1800, at least part of the ground floor appears to have been paved in brick."

Buffalo itself, in 1796, boasted five houses, a tavern and a store -- all of them wooden. Wood, plentiful in this area, would remain the dominant construction material but other materials soon would come into use for public buildings and prominent residences.

Hodge residence VS. Juba Storrs & Co.: Brick usage in Buffalo architecture apparently started in 1806. Buffalo architectural historian John D. Randall, in a privately-published survey, variously notes that "the first brick building was the William Hodge residence, 1358 Main St.," and "the first brick building was Juba Storrs & Co., west side of Main Street between Court and Eagle Streets," citing different sources.

The Hodge residence seems to have the better claim, as a 19th Century historian dates the two-story brick store to 1810-1811 but further confuses the issue by explaining that "this was not, as has been sometimes stated, the first brick building erected here. But it was without question the second one, and by all odds the largest. The first one, the date of erection of which I do not know, was a small building, just south of what is now Court Street, still standing in 1813. It was owned by a Mr. Atwater of Canandaigua, and when Townsend & Coit came to Buffalo, in 1811, they at first occupied it for their business, before they secured better accommodations on the southwest corner of Main and Swan Streets."

The conflict may be resolved by noting that the Hodge residence was not in the Village of Buffalo proper, standing at some distance along the road to Williamsville and Batavia.

Hull-Peterson House: The historic Hull-Peterson House, built in Lancaster by Revolutionary War veteran Warren Hull in 1810, was constructed of stone but has an early brick, beehive-type baking oven next to the basement fireplace where meals were prepared.

War of 1812: With the exception of the 1810 stone jail, the wooden Margaret St. John cottage and some small structures, all of the village buildings were burned by the British at the end of 1813. About 200 houses were lost in the War of 1812 conflagration, but rebuilding started immediately. While wood was the expedient material for much of the early rebuilding, Buffalo was soon to become a substantial city.

1825: In 1825, the year the Erie Canal opened, there was a population of 2,412 and a building inventory that included 232 residences, 11 inns, 5 churches, 6 schools, a courthouse, a library, a theater, a Masonic Hall and 50 shops; six years later, the population had soared 314 percent to 10,000, with a corresponding increase in construction. A strong recovery from the national financial depression of 1819 helped fuel the building boom from the late 1820s to the Financial Panic of 1837.

1832: By 1832 there were 40 factories in the village, which was incorporated as a city that year. The 1835 Directory for the City of Buffalo lists a freight forwarding firm in the "brick store-house, Prime foot of Dayton," and a teacher in the "brick house" on Washington near Scott streets.

The predominance of wood structures, though, made the frontier city vulnerable; fire swept through a business district bounded by Exchange, Seneca, Pearl, Main and Washington streets on Nov. 14, 1832, destroying 50 buildings at a loss estimated at $2,000,000.

Cost: Brick was a much more fireproof material, but it was also more expensive. In 1840, brick cost $2.75 per thousand -- nearly three times the daily wage of a skilled worker -- while lumber sold at $4 to $8 per 1,000 feet.

In 1851 and 1853, though, two major fires that ravaged the waterfront Canal District, leveling more than 500 businesses, warehouses and wooden tenements, emphasized the need for fireproofing. The district was rebuilt in brick described by newspapers of the time as "of the poorest quality," although most of the structures would stand until demolished for the building of apartment complexes and a city auditorium nearly a century later.

Clay tile: Clay tile, a close relation to brick, also brought fireproofing qualities to the city's grain elevators (1869), and brick posted more gains as a construction material when the first hydraulic passenger elevator ended the six-story "walkup" limitation in 1870.

Other materials also appeared:

In 1887, the city limits enclosed 27,004 buildings of wood, 7,943 of brick, 101 of stone and 74 of iron. In 1896, Buffalo initiated a building code that further encouraged substantial construction.

Landmark structures built of brick during the period included:

In Buffalo, in the 1890s, according to former International Brick Collectors Association president Frank J. Clement of Orchard Park, there were 35 to 40 brickyards in the farms that made their own bricks."

City directories trace the prevalence of the industry:

Two major names in early years were John Black and William Brush, once co-owners of a brickworks. Black apparently bought out Brush, who went on to form Brush Brothers with his brother Alexander, who was a three-term mayor of Buffalo. The Brush brickyards donated bricks to Father Baker, for construction of his Lackawanna complex.

A great quantity of the city's bricks were made in outlying areas as well.

Technological History

As brick usage developed through history, so too did brickmaking technology. The first bricks, as has already been noted, were made of sun-dried mud -- a simple but low-heat baking process that resulted in a stiff but easily soluble mud brick. Clays were pulverized, mixed with water to form a stiff paste, pressed into molds, and then turned out of the molds to dry in the sun.

Suitable only in arid regions, even with protective overhanging roofs and waterproof foundations, sun-dried bricks slowly "melt" over time, and may become difficult to identify in the archaeological record.

Clamp burning: The use of bitumen or straw as a binder marked one advance in a primitive technology, but a much more important advance was the process of "firing" bricks at higher heats. The first burned brick probably was produced simply by surrounding a fire with mud bricks, also known as clamp burning, which leads to a brick of uneven structural properties because of the varying distances from the source of heat.

Kilns: In the next stage of technological development, kilns were made by building the naturally dried bricks into arches over the fire; added layers of bricks in a checkerboard pattern resulted in a domed, beehive-shaped kiln that contained and concentrated the heat.

The outside of the kiln or scove could be plastered with mud to enhance the effect, leaving a top vent to pull the fire's heat through the pile; a clamp kiln is like a scone, except the outer walls are permanent.

Periodic or intermittent kilns: Bricks dried in beehive periodic or intermittent kiln, a name indicating a single fire-and-cooling cycle, also are uneven. In the process, the surface turned toward the fire was hardened and blackened, while the side of the brick away from the fire was lighter, softer, and more able to absorb moisture. Blackened brick from the inner surface of the beehive could warp into clinkers, while the softer and lighter-colored brick of the outer shell is sometimes called salmon brick. Later development concentrated on more even flow of heat around and through the stacked bricks, leading to a more uniform product

Kiln development continued, with subsequent forms known as continuous kilns.

The tunnel kiln lends itself well to automation, and in modem brick works as many as 3,000 bricks are stacked mechanically on each drier car, moved through the successive chambers, removed mechanically and stacked, strapped and prepared for shipment in packages of 500.

Brick preparation also has been automated, from the grinding and mixing of clay to extrusion and cutting into individual bricks. Alternative technologies also were invented; a process for compressing and steaming bricks instead of firing them was patented in Germany in 1881, and the 19th Century also saw experimentation with slag bricks formed of molten slag poured into iron molds. Annealed, the slag bricks could be used for paving.

In the 20th Century, when the use of structural steel relegated brick usage to exterior cladding rather than load bearing functions, large sections of brick veneer were developed for bolting onto building frames.

Types of Bricks

Sure there's technology, but you've got to remember we're basically talking about mud here. - Joseph Jakubik, International Chimney Corp.

Classification and Brick Terminology

Bricks can be classified in any of several ways, based on styles, shape, use, material, or firing.

Classification According to Uses

Perhaps the most useful classification, for analyzing archaeological deposits, involves a working knowledge of the uses to which bricks are put. Classification according to use also may be expanded to include some closely-related non-brick categories, such as fired clay tiles and piping.

Face Brick: Face brick is a kiln-burned brick with a smooth surface, intended for the visible portions of buildings.

Common brick: Common brick, also known as backing brick or bonding brick, is a less expensive and less finished brick intended for interior usage in thick brick load-bearing walls or on the less-visible portions of buildings. It is often found on the side walls that abutted the walls of neighboring buildings in closely-packed urban blocks, or in industrial or warehouse structures.

Engineering brick: Engineering brick is a strong, dense brick used for heavy construction such as sewers and foundations.

Firebrick: Firebrick is made of special clays and is used in the linings of boilers, fireplaces and fireboxes. A special very high temperature variety known as refractory brick is used in industrial furnaces.

Paving brick: Paving brick, and its interior version known as flooring brick, is a larger, harder and denser brick intended to withstand heavy loads and usage. Decorative and shaped versions are used in landscaping and public plazas. Resistance to water absorption is a key factor in paving bricks, sometimes tested by placing completed bricks in boiling water for 24 hours. A building brick would have about 6 percent absorption, but that would be fatal to a paving brick in contact with the ground; absorption of less than half a percent was looked for in a a paving brick.

Acid brick: Acid brick is a special adaptation which withstands repeated exposures to acid, and is used in laboratories and chemical plants.

Pipes: Pipes made from clays, in processes similar to brickmaking, include both glazed and unglazed sewer, drain and conduit piping.

Tiles: Tiles made from similar materials and processes include wall and floor tiles, sometimes called facing tiles, quarry tiles and pavers, and roofing tiles. Special ornamental tiles, such as faience, majolica and delft, also are made.

Classification according to style

In addition to the usage classifications, which provide clues to the functions of a structure, style classifications may be applied to face brick. The styles are used for architectural effect, and may also be used by artists in designs incorporated into building surfaces in a tradition dating back as far as Babylon.

Glazed brick: Glazed brick is brick with at least one surface brought to a high-gloss finish through the use of gases produced when salt is thrown into the kiln fires, or by use of ceramic materials, The location of the glazed surface varies; stretchers are glazed on the widest and longest sides, quoins are glazed on the ends and long but narrow sides, and headers are glazed on the ends. The terms stretcher and header have slightly different meanings in bricklaying usage.

Tapestry brick: Tapestry brick is brisk with a roughened, textured surface. Textures commonly are applied to a stiff wet clay by wire combs, rollers or brushes, or by a wire cutter that simply removes the smooth "die skin" from the face of the clay as it is extruded through the brick-sized die, leaving a semi-roughen surface. Sand may also be applied to the brick face before firing, to give a uniform textured surface.

Enameled brick: Enameled brick is made by coating the surface of the unburned clay brick with powders that melt to a colored glass when the bricks are fired. The surface is smoother than that of glazed brick, and the colors may be brilliant.

Classification according to shape

Usage also may dictate the shape of the brick.

Brick, in the standard use of the word, is generally assumed to be small, regularly-shaped blocks capable of being handled easily by one person -- "in principle," according to a technical source, "the length of a brick is equal to twice the width plus a joint, or triple the height plus two joints." Most commonly, this is about 8 to 9 inches (20-22 cm) long by 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 inches (9-11 cm) wide by 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) deep. A half-standard brick is called a soap brick, while a half-brick split longitudinally is a split.

Radial brick: Radial brick, in use as early as Roman times, is molded to form part of the radius of a curve. It is commonly used in chimneys and arches. The arch type, with one of the short ends smaller than the other, is sometimes called a feather-edged brick; a shaft-lining brick with one long edge shorter than the other can be called a compass brick.

Decorative brick: Decorative brick may be molded or cast in variety of shapes and designs. Landscaping pavers in interlocking patterns provide an example,.

Bullnose brick has one edge rounded off in a smooth curve,.

Classification according to firing

As outlined in the discussion of brick history, there may also be a technological classification,

Sun-dried brick: Sun-dried brick, also known as adobe brick, is simply dried without any firing.

Kiln-burned brick: Kiln-burned brick is fired by any of several methods, to produce a harder and more weather-resistant building block.

Pressure-molded brick: Pressure-molded brick is formed by using presses to compress clay or other material into a brick- shape, which is then cured rather than fired.

Classification according to material

While clays are most commonly used in brick production, there is enough variety to warrant additional classifications,

Clay brick: Clay brick, the most common category, uses a natural material largely composed of hydrated silicates of aluminum, with oxide or carbonate of iron or other substances. Silicates, in the form of sand, are added to the mix if not naturally present.

There are three basic types of brickmaking clays:

Sand-lime (calcium silicate) brick is brick formed by compressing rather than firing material other than clay.

Terra cotta, which dates back to 1400 B.C., is a form of structural clay tile fired in kilns and commonly used either as a decorative facing tile or as a block pierced by rectangular holes. Terra cotta or clay tile blocks offered excellent insulation qualities, and often were used in the construction of ice houses designed to preserve cut ice blocks for usage through Western New York summers in the days before refrigeration.

Terra cotta became popular in England early in the 19th Century, and by the last half of the century was in use in many of England's large public buildings, The Dun Building in Buffalo is an excellent example of a mix of decorative terra cotta elements, face brick and common brick.

Concrete also can be cast into block form, as one of several materials that can be either molded or pressed into building blocks and then cured instead of fired. Cinder blocks and, more recently, industrial flyash blocks provide other examples.

Brick Manufacture

The making of brick has varied only in the details, since its earliest times. While much of the process is now automated, brick-making itself is simple and basic.

There are three processes used in making bricks, varying primarily in the amount of water mixed with the clay.

Steps in brickmaking, from start to finished product, include


Brick colors can vary based on natural materials, additives to the clay mixture, or surface applications. The Victorian period in architecture spurred a demand for varied texture and color, toward the end of the 19th Century,

The red color assumes an iron content in the clay, a common occurrence. But natural clays can range from whites through greys and buffs to reds and purples,

Fireclays tend toward the lighter greys and buffs, while ordinary clay-shale mixes tend toward the reds,

By regulating the oxidizing conditions in the kiln, and creating sudden temperature increases in a process known as flashing, dark hues up to black can be obtained.

Common constituents added to the clay mixture to produce colors include

Materials also may be sprinkled on the surface of the brick before firing, to produce colors. Common elements used in this method include manganese (brown), chromium (pink), antimony (yellow), cobalt and manganese (black), copper (green), and cobalt (blue).

Brick Brands

As brickmaking became an industry in North America in the mid-1800s, brickyards proliferated near population centers. As noted above, the Hudson River Valley yards led the U. S, in production early in the 20th Century, turning out about 20 percent of the nation's bricks,

By World War I, though, Midwestern yards in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were equaling New York production, a mid-continent industry had developed from Kansas City to Coffeyville, Kansas, and western states were being supplied by yards in California.

Brick production reached 12.8 billion in 1925, before the Great Depression and then World War II slowed domestic production and dropped the 1945 tally below 3 billion. Since the war, bricks have had to compete with newer building materials and both economics and transportation changes have restructured the industry.

During the heyday of brick production, though, there were hundreds of yards turning out bricks. Competition was fierce, and that fostered a need for advertising. Brickyards developed the concept of brands.

Brands are markings on a face of the brick, impressed or scraped into the wet clay before firing. Not all bricks carry brands, but the archaeologist should be aware that the practice marks a time period stretching from the 1860s to about 1950.

"In the 1860s they started to mark brick," Frank Clement noted. "They knew it was a kind of advertising."

Brands on bricks can be used to determine the regional origin of manufacture and patterns of distribution, but catalogs are not yet complete. The International Brick Collectors Association, which publishes a journal, is an excellent source of information. A continually-updated data base, "Brick Manufacturers in the US" is maintained for the association by Jim Graves; 35 Buffalo-area brands are listed.

Development of brick brands is best described by third-generation Hudson River Valley brickmaker and brick historian Daniel deNoyelles:

About 1835 a shop in the "flats" of the Hudson River near James Woods' brickyard at Haverstraw ran aground. The crew, awaiting flood tide, rowed ashore to visit the brickyard, One of the crew, who had worked on a brickyard across the river at Tarrytown, showed Mr. Wood how to make a mould with a bottom and a "vent."

With the bottoms or panels in the moulds and the vents perfected, some unknown enterprising brickmaker scratched his name in the panel of his moulds a short time after 1850, This would tell the world that he made these bricks,

These early moulds had no "frog," an indentation in the panel which in later years held the brand, so the brands were sometimes burned into the wood and sometimes cut with a knife. Many times the letters were carved every which way!

Many manufacturers continued to produce plain brick, i.e., with no frog until ca. 1870s when central brick markets came into existence in New York City. With the branding of brick the buyers of cargoes would know whence their purchases came. It was then that certain brands were known for their quality and the manufacturer for his honesty when the building material dealers wanted excellence to govern their patronage.

In the 1880s manufacturers and mouldmakers decided that a template could be made so that the brands in the moulds could be made uniformly. This insured a well-balanced and well-proportioned brand name cut into the bottom of the mould, but no manufacturer discerned the importance of the "frog."

The "frog," which dates at least to 1690 in England, was indeed important, for a number of reasons. This indentation on the bottom of the brick not only provided a place for the brand, it also saved material and provided a "key" for the mortar, insuring a better bond during bricklaying.

DeNoyelles adds that the brickmakers of the Hudson Valley eventually caught on, and began using deeper and deeper frogs. "When making billions of brick, the 'frog' saved much raw material," he noted.

Use of brands varied from region to region, however. Roger and Marsha Kelly, in a rare archaeological study of bricks and brickmaking, note that "not every brick bore an impressed mark; in fact in some geographical regions, common or fire brick were impressed but paving brick were not, yet in the Kansas area, street and sidewalk paving brick were impressed but construction brick were not."

Collectors: Brands could come in a variety of styles, including words and symbols, The variety has sparked a hobby, the collection and trading of brand bricks, and collectors can be a source of information for the archaeologist.

Frank and Jane Clement: Clement's home at 6291 Milestrip Road in Orchard Park has a driveway that, in 1995, featured 12,000 "name" bricks from across the country. He and his wife, Jane, both have headed the International Brick Collectors Association, and are joined on their collecting trips by their son, Jim.

Clement notes that the symbols used to mark brands include bisons, arrowheads, good-luck horseshoes, and stars. A garage in North Boston, he said, is made largely of "star" brick, which was popular among children for another reason; the star-shaped indentations, filled with molten fishing-sinker lead and backed with a pin, made sheriffs badges for generations of pint-sized cowboys. There was a Star Brick Co. in Lancaster.

Very early brands were hand-drawn in the clay, and Clement notes that the literacy of laborers is sometimes evident in misspellings or reversed 'N's and 'S's. Later brands were mass-produced using wood or metal dies inserted in the brick molds; occasionally the screws holding the die to the backing panel of the mold also will be reproduced in the finished brick.

Kelly and Kelly characterize brand types in several categories:

There are other categories as well, including pure symbols and messages, Perhaps the most famous of the latter bricks are the "DON'T SPIT ON THE SIDEWALK" warnings emblazoned on bricks produced in Kansas as part of Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine's early 20th Century campaign to limit the spread of tuberculosis.

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. also has a research and display collection of bricks, including 1,500 donated in 1994 by Raymond Chase of Peekskill, NY. Included are bricks with the messages "Pray" and "Merry Christmas."

According to Clement, only about 1 in 5,000 bricks will bear a brand. Only about a quarter of all buildings have what collectors consider "interesting bricks."



The third little pig was a sober little pig. He was building his house of bricks. - The Three Little Pigs

Brick construction depends for its strength not only on the quality of the brick, but also on the arrangement of the bricks to form an interlocking structure.

"Brickwork is designed so that individual bricks are bonded into a structure that will act as a whole," one source notes. "The texture, strength, and watertightness of a brick wall depend greatly on the skill of the bricklayer.

Mortar: Mortar joints between individual bricks must be well formed and watertight. The mortar used to hold the bricks together consists usually of portland cement, lime, and sand, although mortar types vary throughout the world."

Knowledge of brickwork can be useful to the archaeologist faced with a buried bit of brick wall. Based on the arrangement and use of bricks, for example, it might be possible to tell whether the excavated section is the end point or merely a continuation of the wall,


The arrangement of bricks in rows or courses is called the bond of the wall. The type of bond will determine both the strength and the appearance of the wall. Bonds can tie two to three tiers of brick together, or can tie an outer brick facing to an inner back-up wall.

In the interlocking arrangement of bricks, bricks placed parallel to the face of a wall (so the longest side is showing) are called stretchers. Bricks placed perpendicular to the wall (with the end showing) are called headers. Headers are used to link two adjoining sets of courses, as in a wall two bricks thick. Bricks set vertically in walls are called soldiers if set longitudinally, like stretchers, or rowlocks if set endwise, like headers. A brick broken in half to fill a specific space is called a bat or brickbat, and when used to fill out a course at a corner becomes a closer.

The joints between bricks are filled with mortar. The thickness of mortar joints can vary from thin "buttered" to very thick, and the mortar may be tooled in, cut flush, raked out, or left protruding. Mortar usually makes up about 15 percent of a wall. Steel reinforcing bars, or rebar, may be placed in the mortar joints or in a cavity between outer and inner walls to increase the shearing and bending strength of a wall. The cavity between walls can be left as air space or filled with a pouring-consistency mortar called grout.

Types of Brick Walls

There are three general categories of walls.

Structural steel replaced brick for high-rise structures soon after, but modem engineering now has led to 15-story apartment buildings in Europe with load-bearing brick walls only a foot thick, and reinforced brickwork has been used in an earthquake-resistant 17-story building with walls I I inches thick.

Bearing walls may be bonded brick, brick and tile, cavity walls with air or grout-filled inner spaces, reinforced walls with steel bar and grout, or single-thickness walls. Bonding may be done through use of brick headers or metal ties.


As with any stylistic element, the patterns used by bricklayers may be used as clues to regional or even ethnic origin. Many carry regional names. The following pages illustrate both brickwork patterns and common construction techniques, using illustrations from Architectural Graphic Standards (Second Edition), by Charles George Ramsey and Harold Reeve Sleeper (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1936).

Among the most common types likely to be encountered are

Click on illustrations for larger size


Brick walls

Masonry Arches

Masonry Flooring and paving


Brick Paving

Frank Clement standing in front of some of his brand brick collection

P. A. Balcom & Son ad


The Brick Archaeologist

Follow the Yellow Brick Road. - The Wizard of Oz

Knowledge of brickwork may guide the archaeologist in field excavations, and knowledge of brickmaking may aid in site dating and analysis. Neither, however, offers a precision guide; the craft and industry of bricks is one of variation at both the regional and individual levels.

In a paper read at the 1977 Society for Historic Archaeology meeting in Ottawa, Canada, Roger and Marsha Kelly noted that "although based in antiquity, the high-volume production of cheap, industrially-made burned building bricks is only a little over a century old in North America."

"To be sure," they added, "hand manufacture of bricks was common during the 17th and 18th centuries in European colonies north of Mexico. Early patents for brick-making devices were issued during the late 18th Century, and by the 1860s numerous, high-volume, and reliable brick-making machines had been developed in the United States as well as in Western European countries.

Mass production and standardization make life easier for the architect and bricklayer but a bit harder for the archaeologist. Still, analysis of the fabric of an old structure, including not only the brick and mortar but the way in which they were used, can be useful in site interpretation even where standardization in material and technique is evident.

Excavation and Remnant Analysis

Most commonly, brickwork is discovered through surface inspection or through common excavation methods. It is worth noting, however, that brick walls may also be found through magnetic methods of prospecting including the use of instruments such as the proton magnetometer, which measures variations in underground magnetism caused by the presence of such denser objects as brick walls or kilns and stone foundations (the Etruscan town site of Tarquinia in Italy was discovered through magnetic prospecting).

Notice should be taken of the direction of fall of a destroyed wall, as potential evidence of the cause or manner of its destruction. Fire damage, too, can be quantified and analyzed. "The effects of fire vary according to the severity of the fire, the thickness of the walls and the type of brick," a conservation handbook notes.

Clay, and already-burned clay in the form of bricks, provides excellent fire resistance and the use of brick as a fireproof building material already has been noted, Firefighters, however, have long known that "fireproof" is more a claim than a fact, and that fires that do kindle within brick structures can be especially intense because the exterior walls make the building, in effect, an oven.

The effects of fire on brick can be roughly categorized.

Efflorescence, or salt staining, is brick damage on a much slower time scale. Generally, it is cosmetic rather than structurally damaging, and results from the moisture-related leaching out of salts from the clay.

Hygroscopic salts may be removed from brick, if necessary. The most inexpensive and realistic approach is to use a clay poultice on the stained area. In a museum context, the method is to reduce relative humidity below a critical level for the salts, so that a chemical reaction may be used to convert soluble salts to insoluble ones (for example, application of barium hydroxide to convert sodium sulphate to insoluble barium sulphate).

Brick Size As A Guide To Dates

Despite conventional wisdom among historians in Western New York, which holds that smaller brick sizes indicate older buildings, caution should be used in any attempt to assess the age of a structure based simply on brick size.

Size is no indicator of the age of a brick, according to a local collector who has amassed more than 12,000 bricks from this area and other parts of the country. A more sensory method, according to Frank Clement, is the sound and feel of a brick -- newer bricks don't have as good a "ring" as older bricks when struck or chucked onto a brick pile, and also tend to crumble and disintegrate more readily.

As discussed earlier, substantial Hudson Valley brick replaced a smaller, yellower type known as Dutch or Holland brick.

English colonies: In the early English colonies, it is generally held that early brick construction used larger, heavier bricks than later construction. In both Jamestown and Plymouth, James F. Deetz notes, "bricks used in construction exhibit the same trends in dimensional changes through the seventeenth century, even though there was little contact between the colonies of a type which would account for the similarity.

In each case, bricks became shorter, wider and thicker, changing from an earlier presumably common set of dimensions shared by both groups in England prior to their removal to the New World,

Deetz suggests this change is related to the colonists' need, in both places, to make mortar with clam or oyster shells instead of commercial lime. The shell-based mortar is weaker, and a wider brick would provide a compensating larger bearing surface to maintain the structural strength of the wall, with fewer courses needed to make a wall of the same height.

No brick typology for the United States, let alone Buffalo, has yet been attempted, although Kelly and Kelly cite a "recent elaborate typology" developed for English brick by L. S, Harley (1974). No such typology is attempted here, although a sampling of three bricks roughly corresponds to the theory that size may increase slightly over time.

Standardization: Standardization in brick sizes began in the 1880s. The National Brick-makers' Association adopted a standard brick size of 2 by 4 by 8 inches in 1887, and the National Traders and Builders' Association in 1889 adopted standard sizes of 8 1/4 by 4 by 2 1/4 inches for common brick and 8 3/8 by 4 1/8 by 2 1/4 inches for face brick.

The standards, however, were not legally binding and brick dimensions continued for a while to vary by manufacturer or producer. Foreign brick makers early this century varied as much as three inches from American sizes.

Now, professional standards at the international level, as well as local building codes, regulate the size, strength, and grade of bricks used in building.

"As William Lazarus (1965) and Stanley South (1964) have shown, size is an important attribute for observation, but size alone cannot be used for dating purposes even though some accuracy of ethnic identification is possible in some time periods," the Kellys note. But even with fragments of brick, they add, "it is possible to determine at least functional characteristics from brick bats, if not actual manufacturer and date, by observing color, size, and method of molding as well as a complete or partial 'brand,' "


While bricks may by 85 percent of the wall or structure under examination, the other 15 percent should not be neglected. Mortar offers clues to the archaeologist, as well as brick.

"There may be good archaeological reasons for wanting to establish the identity and proportions of constituents in an old mortar," John and Nicola Ashurst note. "There are, however, limitations which should be understood and mortar specifications should not be based on the simple breakdown analysis of a sample.

Elements awaiting discovery in mortar analysis include estimates of the original water to binder ratio, the rate of drying out, the method of mixing and placing mortar, and the cleanliness and condition of aggregates used in the mortar mix. Calcareous aggregates, as in ground shell, also can be digested -- old mortar can be crushed down and reused.

On-site analysis can be done with a 10x magnifying glass, which should be enough to determine whether the mortar is lime-based (Roman) or cement-based (Portland) or whether it contains a substantial proportion of clay or loam.

More sophisticated (and expensive) analysis can be done using X-ray diffraction, which can identify constituents of the mortar and identify types of clay. The process involves collecting sample lumps, not crumbled mortar or powder, two ounces (40 to 50 g) of mortar in one or two compact fragments, half for analysis and half for reference, are preferred, and the archaeologist should try for at least three samples from different parts of the wall for separate analysis, and the specimens should be clearly and thoroughly labeled

"The analysis of old mortar is the analysis of changing technology," the Ashursts note. "Only rarely can it be used to provide a specific date of construction, Laboratory analysis and expert interpretation will provide the most detailed and accurate results, but by themselves they are unlikely to give much indication of the dates when a mortar was prepared.

The dating of masonry walls should not be attempted or expected from mortar analysis alone. A combination of evidence is necessary. A thorough examination of documentary sources relating to a building/structure and its site should be carried out by an experienced person with training in historical research. This should he correlated with analysis of the fabric, one aspect of which is mortar analysis, Further examination of the fabric should include interpretation of the method of construction and the manufacturer of its bricks and/or preparation of its stone.

Historic Documentation

History can often be attached to brick structures by following a paper trail.


Analysis of bricks and brickwork at an archaeological site can provide clues not only to the site itself, but also to its place in a regional context. Site interpretation benefits immensely from a knowledgeable review of the history preserved in brick.

Identification of bricks can be used to plot economic or trade networks, determine whether importation of brick from other regions or countries are indicated, or map the extent of market areas within a region.

The use of brick structures, which are expensive in both material and labor, may be combined with analysis of other classes of site artifacts (ceramics, dinnerware, etc.) to estimate the social or financial status of site occupants.

Rough guides to dates may be obtained through analysis of bricks and mortar, although the archaeologist should be aware that bricks often are recycled and reused. Changes in brickwork or bricks may be helpful in determining the presence of additions to older structures or the location of areas that have been remodeled by later owners.

Appendix; Partial Listing of Buffalo Brickyards and Brands

Adams Brick & Terra Cotta Co.
Balcom, P.A.
Bender, Henry
Bentz, W. & Bros.
Berrick, Charles & Sons
Berrick, Charles Sons
Bentz, W. & Bros.
Black Rock Sewer Pipe Co.
Black, John H.
Brush Bros.
Brush, Alexander
Brush, William C.
Buffalo Fire Brick Works (Hall & Sons)
Bush, William
Dietschler, Henry
Dietschler, Henry & Son
Eckford, Richard
Ellicott Brick Corp.
Elwood, John
Gordon, John
Gordon, Patrick
Haake, Fred W.
Haake, Fred W. & Son
Hall & Sons Inc.
Hall Fire Brick Co.
Hambuckle, R.
Hebert & Schusler
Holmes, John
Kirkover, Louis
Lagler, Charles
North Collins Shale Brick Co.
Ralph, Jesse
Robson, Robert
Schmidt, G.W.
Schusler, E.A. & Co,

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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