California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Hydraulic Press Brick Company of California

History


On June 19, 1890, the Hydraulic Press Brick Company of California filed its articles of incorporation with the County of San Francisco. The directors were George C. Perkins of Oakland and Thomas Brown, Lloyd Tevis, Frank McCoppin, C.H. Simpkins, and J.B. Randol of San Francisco. Frank McCoppin was president and G.H. Luchinger was Secretary. The capital stock was $200,000, divided into 2,000 shares. The office was located at 320 Sansome Street and, in 1893, it was moved to 132 Market Street in San Francisco.

The property of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company is shown <br />  
as H.P.B.Co. 100 acres near the center of the map view.<br /> 
The City of Vallejo is on the lower right. From Eager, 1890.
The property of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company is shown
as H.P.B.Co. 100 acres near the center of the map view.
The City of Vallejo is on the lower right. From Eager, 1890.

On July 3, 1890, the brick company purchased 100 acres of land William Carter. Then it got about 3 acres of tideland from the Vallejo Land and Improvement Company and, from Solano County, the right-of-way to build a wharf on the Straits of Mare Island. The brickyard property extended along the current Wilson Avenue from Benson Avenue on the south end to the Sears Point Road Bridge on the north end and from the Straits of Mare Island on the west to Hill Drive on the east side.

The shale deposit laid beneath the hills on the east side of the property below about 3 feet of loam. A pit was dug to mine the shale, which was wheeled to the clay shed a few yards away. The storage shed was 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. Adjacent to the shed was the engine room and clay mill, where the shale was crushed in two Steadman crushers, a roller crusher, and finally a centrifugal wheel that beats up the lumps. The material was then passed through a revolving screen before it was conveyed to the bin of the brick machine. The brick machine was a St. Louis Hydraulic Brick Machine with a capacity of 45,000 per day. The clay was dropped from the bin into 10 steel molds of the brick machine, which then applied 2,000 to 4,000 pounds per square inch of pressure to the mold. W.L. Norris ran the brick machine. The formed bricks were taken directly to the Boehncke continuous kiln and stacked 53 courses high. The kiln capacity was about 40,000 brick per day. It required 18 days to fire the brick using coal. The draft for the kiln was provided by a 250-foot tall smokestack.

The wharf of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company is annotated in <br />
red on the Napa 1899 topographical map. From USGS, 1899
The wharf of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company is annotated
in red on the Napa 1899 topographical map. From USGS, 1899.

The plant started up in late January 1891, and the newspapers reported that smoke was bellowing out of the two large smokestacks. But after a series of setbacks, the brickyard was not able to start producing brick until June 1892, when the first 500,000 brick were fired in the new kiln with success. The superintendents were Harry McCue from 1890 to 1891, Charles Marr from 1891 to 1892, and Frank Haspar from 1892 to 1894. The yard employed 40 workers. In anticipation of hiring more workers, the company built a hotel, which was managed by William Tormey.

This plant produced bricks in shades of pale orange-red to dark cherry red. They manufactured both common and face brick in different sizes, but the bricks were larger than standard size. The pressed bricks were of quality similar to those made by the Union Brick and Tile Company located in south Vallejo. The bricks are easily distinguished from the Union bricks by a pattern of dots always found on the faces of the brick (see below). A wharf was built for shipping the bricks to San Francisco, which was the main market for these bricks. The wharf was 500 feet long and 50 feet wide, with an approach of 800 feet. The company also established a storage space for their bricks at the foot of Second and Berry streets in San Francisco. Bricks were probably shipped to San Francisco from 1892 to 1894. The brickyard closed in 1894 due to low demand for building brick.

In October 1894, the owner of the continuous kiln, Max A.T. Boehncke, filed a suit in the Superior Court against the stockholders of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company for $2,350, which was the amount owed for work done. Then in September 1895, the Vallejo Chronicle reported that Sheriff Rush was to sell the brickyard to satisfy a judgement of $13,649.50. The brickyard was purchased by the Bank of California at a Sheriff's sale on May 8, 1896. It sat idle for 10 years. Finally, Bank of California sold the property to the Hyfire Brick Company in 1906. Part of the property was also later owned by the Vallejo Brick and Tile Company.

Hydraulic Press Brick

Hydraulic Press brick are found in a range of colors including pale orange-red, pale red, dark orange-red, dark cherry red, and brown. The surface is smooth on all sides. The edges are straight and sharp. The corners are sharp. Tiny blister holes in the yellow and gray clay clots are visible on the surface. Some sides may display transverse striation imprints from the mold. The faces contain the most diagnostic features for bricks made by this company. They all contain two round slightly raised lugs and 6 round holes or bumps on both faces. The lugs are 1/2 inch in diameter and are centered at each end about 1/2 inch from the short edge of the brick. Starting about 1 3/8 inch from the ends of the brick are a pair of dots, either depressed or raised and 1/4 inch in diameter, spaced 1 1/2 inch apart from each other. Each pair of dots is spaced 2 5/8 inches apart in the longitudinal direction. It is estimated that there are 6 dots on the face of the brick, and with this arrangement, the length of the brick is probably about 8 inches. No complete brick was found to verify the length, as only bats were found at the brickyard site. The dots are mostly shallow holes, but some are round bumps. These dots may represent 1/4 inch diameter holes in the steel mold that normally would produce raised bumps, but when the holes in the mold get clogged with clay or rocks, they produce shallow holes. These subtle dots and lugs are easily missed, especially if the brick is covered in mortar or dirt. The interior contains about 5 percent rounded yellow sandstone, gray clay, and black iron oxide blebs, all less than 1/8 inch in diameter, in a spheroidal vitrified red clay body. Length 8?, width 3 7/8 - 4 1/8, height 2 1/4 - 2 5/8 inches.

View of the sides of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick showing a range of colors.
View of the sides of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bats showing a range of colors.

View of the face of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bat.
View of the face of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick
bat showing a lug and four dots. Do you see the lug and four dots?

View of the reversed face of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company<br /> 
pressed brick bat showing a lug and four dots indicated by <br />
arrows..
View of the face of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed
brick bat showing a round lug and four dots indicated by arrows.
On a whole brick, there should be two lugs and 6 dots on the face.
These are diagnostic features for this brick and easily overlooked.

View of the face of two Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bats<br /> 
welded together.
View of the faces of two Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bats and rotated
with the ends on top. Note that each brick bat has a lug and two dots shown. Note also
that on the left the dots are depressions while on the right the dots are raised bumps.

Close-up view of the smooth surface of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bat.
Close-up view of the smooth surface of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bat.

View of the interior clay body of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bat.
View of the interior clay body of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company pressed brick bat.

Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Hydraulic Press<br /> 
Brick Company pressed brick bat (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).
Microscopic view of the interior clay body of the Hydraulic Press
Brick Company pressed brick bat (50x, field of view is 1/4 inch).

References

Against Stockholders, Vallejo Chronicle, October 30, 1894.

Brick Works Hotel, Vallejo Chronicle, April 9, 1892.

Guns, Bricks and Gold, San Francisco Call, June 20, 1890.

Harbor Front, San Francisco Call, May 13, 1891.

Press Brick, Vallejo Chronicle, June 16, 1892.

San Francisco City Directories, 1892-1894.

Solano County Deeds, Hydraulic Press Brick Company to Bank of California, Sheriff, May 8, 1896, Book 125, p. 432.

Solano County Deeds, Solano County to Hydraulic Press Brick Company, October 7, 1890, Book 107, p. 255.

Solano County Deeds, William Carter to Hydraulic Press Brick Company, July 3, 1890, Book 106, p. 290.

Solano County Deeds, Vallejo Land and Improvement Company to Hydraulic Press Brick Company, July 18, 1890, Book 106, p. 306.

Vallejo's Brick and Terra Cotta Industry, Vallejo Times Herald, December 24, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, August 4, 1892.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 6, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 15, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, January 19, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, July 10, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, July 28, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, March 30, 1892.

Vallejo Chronicle, November 4, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, November 24, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, October 16, 1891.

Vallejo Chronicle, September 10, 1895.

Vallejo Chronicle, September 24, 1891.

Copyright 2014 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.