Brick: A Catalog History

Brick is a building material that is ubiquitous around the world. The advantages of its durability, pleasing and familiar character, and fire resistance are all reasons for its long-term popularity. Brick has been used for all classes of buildings, from the humble brick bungalow of the early 20 century to the downtown high-rise office building. The Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL) contains hundreds of documents on the topic of brick, which make this an exciting library to explore for anyone interested in traditional design and construction. There are technical publications from various trade associations, trade catalogs from brick manufacturers, and numerous house plan catalogs featuring brick homes. The BTHL also contains several catalogs of brick making equipment. There are also many technical and engineering manuals of brick construction from the collection of the International Masonry Institute.

Many of the documents date from the first third of the 20th century, a period when brick was the predominant material for commercial buildings. It was also an era when changes in brick making technology and architectural styles added a great variety to design choices. This design opportunity is nicely stated in a publication from the American Face Brick Association, “While brick has long been recognized for its strength, its safety, its permanence, and its pleasing, natural color, it has only been in recent years that the matchless charm of a great range of color has been added to its appeal…. Naturally, the wide choice, coupled with the many pleasing textures available, has produced increasing numbers of colorful, distinctive homes under the skill of architects and builders.”

About the APT Building Technology Heritage Library

The Association for Preservation Technology (APT) created the Building Technology Heritage Library. APT started the project as part of our mission to provide information about the best practices for building conservation. Trade catalogs provide a wealth of information about building materials and systems. Because trade catalogs are generally considered to be ephemera, they were not generally saved in libraries and there are only a dozen major collections in North America. APT works with institutional libraries and private collectors to create a combined collection of pre-1964 documents mostly from North America, but with a growing number of items from Australia and Europe. The BTHL debuted on the Internet Archive in 2010 and now holds more than 11,000 period documents, which get more than 50,000 document views per month. The BTHL is hosted by the Internet Archive, which is a free online platform for documents in the public domain.

Manual of Face Brick Construction, 1920

Manual of Face Brick Construction, 1920

Manual of Face Brick Construction, 1920

American Face Brick Association, Chicago IL

https://archive.org/details/AmericanFaceBrickAssocAManuelofFaceBrickCon0001

This publication starts with a brief history of brick but quickly moves to the story about brick for residential architecture. The idea of using brick as a facing material on wood frame construction was a major innovation of the early 20 century and rapidly became the accepted method of construction for brick homes in the U.S. This publication contains numerous house plans of brick residences as well as technical data about brick construction.

Gregg’s “Impact” Brick Machine, 1876

Gregg’s “Impact” Brick Machine, 1876

Gregg’s “Impact” Brick Machine, 1876

Gregg Impact Brick Machine Co., Philadelphia PA

https://archive.org/details/GreggsimpactBrickMachine/mode/2up

There are several different catalogs of brick-making machinery on the BTHL, all of which date from the late 19th and early 20th century when “pressed brick” was particularly popular. This technology produced an extremely smooth and precise brick made by a hydraulic press. This technology was later replaced by an extrusion process, which increased the efficiency of brick production but did not produce as fine a grade of brick.

Waldo Brothers Brick, 1880s Boston MA

Waldo Brothers Brick, 1880s Boston MA

Waldo Brothers Brick, 1880s Boston MA

https://archive.org/details/distributorscata00wald/mode/2up

This is a catalog from a brick supply company in Boston that distributed brick from companies in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The description of the “pressed brick” still rings true today. “Superior in color, fineness of edge and general finish to any other face brick made.”

The Story of a House: being some suggestions in brickwork from the catalog of O. W. Ketchum…

The Story of a House: being some suggestions in brickwork from the catalog of O. W. Ketchum…

The Story of a House: being some suggestions in brickwork from the catalog of O. W. Ketchum…

O. W. Ketcham, Philadelphia PA, 1899

https://archive.org/details/TheStoryOfTheHouseBeingSomeSuggestionsInBrickworkFromTheCatalogue

Architectural trade catalogs often featured product illustrations, but this catalog has both literary and artistic merits. Delicate line drawings showcase the use of brick with quotes from popular authors. The line drawings of brick shapes have a simplicity of line and presentation that is rare for this genre. The cover features the words of Walt Whitman from the Song of the Broad Axe. “The bricks, one after another, each laid so workmanlike in its place, and set with a knock of the trowel handle.”

Purington Paving Brick, 1911

Purington Paving Brick, 1911

Purington Paving Brick, 1911

Purington Paving Brick Company, Galesburg IL

https://archive.org/details/puringtonpavingb00puri

Paving brick were one of the most durable types of brick, with a resistance to water absorption that was equal to that of granite. The Purington Paving Brick Company of Galesburg, Illinois, was one of the largest manufacturers of paving brick. The availability of a local shale clay was essential to the quality of their paving brick.

Genuine Economy in Home Building

Genuine Economy in Home Building

Genuine Economy in Home Building

Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, St. Louis MO 1913

https://archive.org/details/GenuineEconomyInHomeBuilding

The Hydraulic-Press Brick Company of St. Louis MO, was a technical innovator in the manufacturing of brick. Their use of high pressure allowed them to produce extremely dense, smooth, and dimensionally uniform bricks, which were particularly popular in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, they moved into the production of textured brick and modern extrusion production methods. They had more than a dozen plants across the eastern half of the country, assuring that their products would be widely used.

Plain and Fancy Brickwork, 1929

Plain and Fancy Brickwork, 1929

Plain and Fancy Brickwork, 1929

W. S. Lowndes and George Johnson Jarvis, Philadelphia PA

https://archive.org/details/PlainAndFancyBrickwork./mode/2up

This is an excellent publication that is well illustrated and covers the topics of brick history, construction methods, and “numerous patterns in face brick.” The publication is divided between “Common Brickwork” and “Face and Ornamental Brickwork” including “examples of buildings in which patterns in face brick have been used successfully.”

Brick and Tile as Utilized in in Modern American Architecture. 1947

Brick and Tile as Utilized in in Modern American Architecture. 1947

Brick and Tile as Utilized in Modern American Architecture. 1947

Ohio Brick and Tile Institute, Columbus OH

https://archive.org/details/OhioBrickAndTileInstitute

This publication is a photo essay of mid-century brick buildings from across the U.S. There are six categories of buildings—churches, commercial, hospitals, industrial, residential, and schools.

Homes in Brick, 1960s

Homes in Brick, 1960s

Homes in Brick, 1960s

L. F. Garlinghouse Co., Inc., Topeka KS

https://archive.org/details/LFGarlinghouseHomesinbrick0001/mode/2up

There are almost a thousand house plan catalogs in the BTHL, including a hundred from the Garlinghouse Company. Homes in Brick features over 120 designs that are characterized as “contemporary, traditional and ranch.“ Most of the examples are one-story “ranch houses.” The illustrations are equally divided between design drawings and photographs of completed houses. 

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