A screenshot from "The Story of the House," O. W. Ketchum, 1899.

This is the second post in a monthly series that explores the historical use of building materials and systems, using resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade-group publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Springfield, Ill.based Association for Preservation Technology. Read more about the archive here.

Masonry has been the go-to structural and cladding material for millennia. As such, the online Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL) is rife with technical publications and trade catalogs that detail masonry materials, such as brick, stone, terra-cotta, and concrete block, as they were used from the early-19th to the mid-20th centuries. A number of new products and fabrication methods entered this category during the period, including glass-unit masonry (i.e., glass block), mortars, brick-making machinery, fire bricks, fireplaces, and artificial stone. These documents explore the marketing and use of those additions from the turn of the century through the 1940s.

Canadian Centre for Architecture

Genuine Economy in Home Building, Hydraulic-Press Brick Co., 1913

The Hydraulic-Press Brick Co., of St. Louis, was a technical innovator in brick manufacturing. By using high-pressure production, the company could fabricate extremely dense, smooth, and uniform bricks, which were particularly popular during the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, Hydraulic-Press added the production of textured brick and modern extrusions to its portfolio. By then, the company had more than a dozen plants across the eastern half of the U.S., assuring the wide distribution of its products. 

Canadian Centre for Architecture

Studies in Granite: The Noblest of Building Stones, National Building Granite Quarries Assoc., 1923

Granite is one of the most durable building materials. Calling it the “noblest of building stones,” this trade publication features architectural plates of granite details and building façades. Lacking technical information, the text fits into a pattern of trade literature meant to inspire architects to use particular products—though not necessarily teaching them how.


Robert Vail Cole AIA Collection

ILCO Specification Manual, Indiana Limestone Co., 1931

This specifications manual from the Indiana Limestone Co. explains the material properties, grading standards, finishes, and attachment details for the use of Indiana limestone sourced from its quarries. Limestone remains one of the most common exterior stones for civic and institutional buildings.


Mike Jackson FAIA Collection

Glass Blocks for Smarter More Practical Homes, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., 1940

Glass block—an innovation that followed cast-glass skylights and sidewalk vaults into the market—is a relatively recent addition to the index of masonry materials. It exploded on the marketplace in the 1930s. In this catalog, PPG, a major producer of the material during the period, promoted its use in Modern architecture.

Jablonski Building Conservation

Pecora Mortar Stains, S. Bowen Sons, 1893

Masonry construction typically uses mortar as the binding agent between brick and stone units. Colored mortar tints became popular in the late 19th century, peaking in popularity in the early 20th century.

Mike Jackson FAIA Collection

The Story of the House, O. W. Ketchum, 1899

Product illustrations are typical of the period’s architectural trade catalogs, but few rival this one in artistic merit. Delicate line drawings showcase the use of brick alongside thematic quotations from literature. The line drawings in this example are simple, rare for this genre of period trade publications.

Mike Jackson FAIA Collection

NATCO Hollow Tile Fireproofing: Eastern Edition Catalogue, National Fire Proofing Co., 1915

Architectural terra-cotta blocks were extremely popular in early 20th–century residential and commercial construction, particularly for cladding. But the product had another, more utilitarian, use: encased in steel for so-called fireproofing, which is where the publisher of this catalog, the National Fire Proofing Co., gets its name. The catalog illustrates the use of terra-cotta tile to create flat and segmental arch-floor structures.


Jim Draeger Collection

Store Fronts in Architectural Terra-Cotta, New Jersey Terra-Cotta Co., 1924

The use of architectural terra-cotta as an exterior cladding material was popular from the 1880s through the 1930s, peaking from 1900 to 1930. This catalog, from the New Jersey Terra-Cotta Co., features terra-cotta for use in small-scale commercial building applications.