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Early Twentieth Century "Face Brick" as a National Industry: The Textures, Colors, and Sizes of Face Brick + The Development of the Industry

Rosen, Julie M.

By the late-nineteenth century the brick industry was largely mechanized. In accordance with the changing technologies' capacity to produce greater numbers of increasingly uniform products (in shape, color and durability), the notion of—and market for—"face brick" changed drastically during this time. It was because of this newfound uniformity that face brick ultimately became fully differentiated from the lower-quality "common brick" product. Over the next decades, architects and builders became increasingly interested in the use of textured and multi-colored face brick for the exterior of buildings. This was a strict departure from the earlier years of largely smooth-surfaced brick production. The production of face brick was truly a national industry by the 19-teens, and it was reported that in 1915 face brick was produced in forty-two states across the United States. The widespread location of good brickmaking clays, rail transportation, and product marketing all contributed to the success of the face brick industry. Research on this topic revolves around color, texture and size of early twentieth century face brick and explores the ways in which product trends evolved throughout the decades before and after the turn of the new century. Research has also been undertaken on the role and development of technology in production—how raw materials, equipment and methods changed to reflect evolving aesthetic trends. Production methods (soft-mud, stiff-mud, dry-press, re-press) have been investigated, as has the role of face brick manufacturers in the evolution of brick size standardization within the larger building brick industry. The rapid evolution of face brick production processes, terminology, and aesthetics over the course of approximately sixty years (1880-1940) created an ever-growing national face brick industry that was cemented by the 1912 establishment of the American Face Brick Association. The development of this association has been traced, revealing its early role in the aesthetic and terminological standardization of products, as well as its publication of a large number of catalogs which no doubt led to the widespread use of face brick on buildings large and small, in a multitude of urban and suburban environments across the country. In the late 1930s, the American Face Brick Association merged with several other clay products associations to form the Structural Clay Products Institute, the predecessor of today's Brick Industry Association. This research has revealed a strong connection to not only today's preservation professionals, but to clay brick industry members such as manufacturers and distributors. Due to the historical nature of the brick trade and the lack of organized documentation of early twentieth century face brick, however, it is often difficult to visually identify, research, and subsequently reproduce a deteriorated face brick product. Knowledge of historic production methods and products is therefore essential for both preservation consultants and trade-oriented participants of a face brick restoration project, particularly as increasing numbers of face brick preservation projects are likely in the coming years.

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Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Weiss, Norman R.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2012
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