Of all building materials, brick carries an emotional resonance unlike any other. Our attraction to it must be primal, given that humans have been making brick since at least 7000 B.C., . rst with mud and sunshine and then, around 3000 B.C., by putting earthen clay in fiery kilns. Brick is beautiful. Brick is plastic. And, as we know, it lasts practically forever, hardened by the kiln's extreme heat against all but catastrophic insults.

Since the rise of the kiln and what is called “. re brick,” essentially little has changed in the way brick is made. At the Belden Brick Co., a maker of architectural brick based in Canton, Ohio, some production lines are automated on a grand scale and some brick is made by hand, but the recipe still involves a conspiracy of earth, air, . re, and water. The last big technical change at Belden Brick was to switch its kilns completely from coal to natural gas in 1974. “The changes in brick manufacturing in the past 100 years are not signi. cant as far as engineering goes,” says Brian Belden, the company's marketing director. “The differences now are about how to get the brick fired more quickly and efficiently.”

Brian Belden is one of seven family members running the company and is a great-great grandson of its founder, Henry S. Belden, who started the company in 1885. Today, Belden Brick has about 500 employees who make 230 million bricks a year in six plants (each plant makes its own unique types of brick). All the plants are set among the picturesque hills around Sugarcreek, about a half-hour south of Canton.

Brick Ingredients
Essentials: Shale, clay, water, barium carbonate
Additives: Sand (for all molded brick and some extruded); Chromite chromox and manganese (for gray brick); Garnet and iron oxide (for select red brick)1. Mining

Belden Brick is located in north-central Ohio because it's where the company gets its main raw materials, shale and fire clay, which lie just beneath the earth's surface, anywhere from 10 to 100 feet down. The company owns 17 broad, shallow mines, or pits, on 3,000 acres around the region. Before any site is mined, Belden's staff geologist, Joe Angel, takes core samples of shale and clay from the ground back to his laboratory for firing in a test kiln (or “skut kiln”), examining them for color and shrinkage as well as for their carbon and sulfur content (in both cases, less is better).

In an active pit, drivers board huge mechanical shovels and gouge into the earthen walls. They load big chunks of clay and shale separately—the materials, found in successive or alternating layers of the pit, stay separated until ground nearly to dust— into 22-ton hauling trucks. The same drivers then take the trucks back to the plant, which receives about 33 truckloads a day.