Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

From ancient Egyptian fortresses to the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages, brick has been used as a building material for millennia. Early brick units were often composed of clay, or composite mudbricks with straw as a binder, until technological advancements facilitated methods for fired bricks baked in kilns.

However, it was the transition from hand-molding to the mechanized mass production of the components during the Industrial Revolution that led to the explosion of brick as a modern building material. And by the early 1900s, brick had solidified its status as the preferred material for commercial buildings.

This month, the BTHL chronicles brick’s applications and variety throughout the 20th century.

Waldo Brothers, Boston, 1880
This catalog from the late Victorian era shows how corbelling and molded brick could be used to transform a chimney into a detailed architectural feature.

Bricks: Face, Ornamental, Enameled, Glazed In All Colors, Kansas City Hydraulic Press-Brick Company, Kansas City, Mo., 1904
Bricks made using hydraulic press technology had smooth surfaces, precise shapes, and could be produced with molded ornamental shapes. Their high density, achieved through press technology, also made them a very durable option.

Tapestry Brick Fireplaces, Fiske and Co., New York, 1911
The phrase “tapestry brick” indicates the use of brick to create a pattern effect, a style that is often associated with rough-textured brick made popular in the early 20th century. This type of brick was frequently featured in Arts & Crafts architecture, but could also be found in various styles of commercial and residential buildings of the era.

Brick: Enameled and Front, Sayre & Fisher Co., New York, 1914
The use of a glazed or enameled surface on brick blocks produced a water-resistant surface and a glossy finish. Usually associated with pottery, this technique was used for brick in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sayre & Fisher Co. offered molded enamel bricks in a variety of shapes, sizes, and even colors.

A Manual of Face Brick Construction, American Face Brick Association, Chicago, 1920
Part technical construction guide and part house plan book, this manual from the American Face Brick Association cites brick as part of “the ancient and honorable art of building.” By the early 20th century, many builders opted to outfit wood-frame residences with single-width brick faces for a more budget-friendly option that still fit aesthetic demands.

Brick: How to Build and Estimate, The Common Brick Manufacturers’ Association of America, Cleveland, 1926
This technical document outlines the applications of brick as hollow walls, economy walls, and fire-resistant construction. It also provides details on building codes, calling for 8-inch walls in residential applications.

Autumtints Brick, Illinois Brick Co., Chicago, 1936
This trade catalog features a variety of rough-textured and mottled brick. The large format color illustrations demonstrate the subtle variations that came from brick production methods.

Principles of Brick Engineering: Handbook of Design, Structural Clay Products Institute, Chicago 1939
This comprehensive engineering guide to brick construction includes information on the structural capacity of brick, layout and slab design, and construction procedures.

Brick and Tile As Utilized in Modern American Architecture, Ohio Brick and Tile Institute, Columbus, Ohio, 1947
This catalog highlights brick applications in religious, commercial, residential, and industrial designs.