California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


Livermore Fire Brick Company

Livermore Fire Brick Company letterhead
Letterhead donated by Chris and Sandra Ingram

History


The history of this brick plant begins in 1908, when T. W. Tetley of San Francisco asked the Livermore Citizen's Committee for 5 acres of land between the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific railroads on the west side of the town of Livermore. Tetley represented a magnesite mining firm that operated a magnesite mine on Cedar Mountain, about 12 miles southeast of Livermore. The magnesite operators were Charles H. Spinks and Thomas Green, who had previously opened the American magnesite mine on Red Mountain prior to 1907 when that venture failed. Now they wanted to haul the Cedar Mountain magnesite to a brick plant that they wanted to build in Livermore for the manufacture of magnesia brick.

Tetley proposed to Livermore that if 5 acres of land could be donated for their brick plant, the magnesite firm would build a permanent brick plant that would provide employment to as many as 150 workers. The Livermore Citizen's Committee in the interest of supporting the local magnesite industry and providing new jobs for its citizens, jumped at the opportunity by starting a subscription drive to purchase the 5 acres of land from John Luders who owned the property that the brick firm wanted. But in fact they had raised enough funds to purchase the whole 15-acre tract held by Luders. After Charles Spinks drew up plans for the large plant, it turned out that they would need 8 acres of land to accommodate all of the plant buildings. So Tetley changed his proposal to 8 acres and offered to contribute $1,000 toward the purchase of the deed. In August 1908, Tetley got the deed of 8 acres from Luders, and the Livermore Trustees got the remaining 10 1/2 acres from Luders.

In October 1908, construction began on the magnesia brick plant on the west side of Livermore, at the junction of Stanley Blvd. and Railroad Avenue, Livermore, where the Brickyard Shopping Center is located today. Charles Spinks was superintending the plant construction. The buildings were constructed of corrugated iron or wood with concrete foundations. The buildings included a cement house, 60 x 120 feet; dryer, 60 x 140 feet; pan room, 60 x 130 feet; storage warehouse, 90 x 140 feet; gas plant, 100 x 80 feet; chemical department, 80 x 100 feet; store shed, 100 x 40 feet; and three kilns, 15 x 30 feet each. Some of the machinery was brought over from the defunct American Magnesite Company's works in Oakland. A small test kiln was erected at the plant to test magnesia brick, which satisfactorily passed all tests. But on October 6, 1909, before the plant could start up, Tetley committed suicide in his office in the Kohl Building in San Francisco. Apparently, Tetley was diagnosed with paresis and as a result lost his will to live. The magnesia brick plant remained idle.

Livermore Fire Brick Company brickyard
View of the Livermore Fire Brick Company clay storage
shed and plant. From Architect and Engineer, 1912.

The operators of the Oakland Paving Brick Company in Decoto took note of the newly built plant in Livermore and decided to purchase it for the manufacture of firebrick. In early 1910, the Livermore Fire Brick Company was organized by E. L. Dow, president, L. G. Burpee, vice-president, and C. K. Holloway, secretary, with a capital stock of $100,000. Their main office was in the First National Bank Building in Oakland, and later was removed to Livermore. This company purchased the 8 acres of land from Mrs. Tetley and optioned for an additional 10 acres of land, securing the deed from Livermore after one year of operation. The magnesia brick plant was overhauled for the manufacture of firebrick and other refractory products. Incidentally, this company also took over the Rose Fire Brick Company's plant in Oakland, installed new equipment, but never brought it to full production.

C. K. Holloway became the plant manager and hired James Drummond as the first superintendent of the plant. But during the first couple years of operation, the company had a difficult time in retaining a plant superintendent. Drummond left only after a couple of months, so the head engineer, Charles C. Crongdon, was acting superintendent until they were able to find a permanent superintendent. G. Meyers became the next superintendent until September, 1911, followed by James Norton from the Carnegie Brick & Pottery Company. Initially, 15 men were hired at the plant, and this was increased later to 40 workers.

Fire clay was initially shipped to the plant by rail from Carbondale and Ione, Amador County, until the company was able to secure its own fire clay deposit on 220 acres of land in Calaveras County. Charles Crongdon was also in charge of the clay mining operation. There were three varieties of fire clay on the Calaveras property: a non-plastic, flint-type clay, a semi-plastic clay, and a plastic clay. The deposit was at least 35 feet thick.

The Livermore plant contained a large wood building, 100 by 160 feet, housing the power plant and brick-making machinery. The power plant was equipped with one 300-h.p. Erie Corliss engine, which ran the machinery. There was a Cookson water heater by which the waste steam was utilized to heat the water in the boilers, and a Clayton air compressor for the blast in the kilns. Attached to the main building was a 28- by 30-foot boiler room that contained two 150-h.p. Erie water-tube boilers of the Heine type and a 40-foot tall brick chimney. Adjoining and connected on the south side of the main building was a clay storage shed, 80 by 140 feet, with a concrete floor and an elevated track, 12-feet high, for receiving raw clay from gondola cars brought in by the Southern Pacific Railroad on their spur line to the plant.

The drier shed to the north of the main building contained a drier constructed of 17,000 feet of one-inch pipe laid between the five car tracks, 16 pipes, 8 above and 8 below, to each track connected to manifolds at either end. Live steam was used in the drier at night and exhaust steam during the day. The drier had a capacity of 76,000 brick. 200 steel drier cars, each with a capacity of 400 brick, were used in the drier. North of the drier was a hollow tile molding building containing a 50-h.p. electric engine and air compressor. Other smaller buildings included an office, a laboratory, a blacksmith shop, an oil storage, and an elevated 75,000-gallon water tank. A steam water pump drew 2,500 gallons of water per hour from a 70-foot well on the property.

Livermore Fire Brick Company brickyard
View of the Livermore Fire Brick Company round down-draft kilns and
30-ft. chimney. From Architect and Engineer, 1912.

East of the plant buildings, there were two small test muffle kilns, with capacities of 1,500 and 400 bricks, and these were attached to a 20-foot tall brick chimney. North of the plant buildings, there were six 30-foot diameter round, down-draft kilns and one tunnel kiln, attached to three brick chimneys, 25-, 30-, and 75-feet tall. These round kilns had a capacity of 75,000 brick each. Fuel oil was used for smoking and burning. It took 3.5 barrels of oil to burn brick to cone 12. A Worthington meter attached to the oil pipes indicated the use on average of 3.25 barrels of oil to burn 1,000 brick.

Much of the operation at the Livermore plant was automated and capable of producing 30,000 brick per day. The raw fire clay stored in the storage shed was fed into a Standard 9-foot dry pan made by the American Clay Machinery Company, which pulverized the clay. The pulverized clay fell by gravity into an elevator boot and was conveyed to the top of the building, where it passed through piano wire screens made by the American Clay Machinery Company, and was dumped into the bins. These bins automatically fed the clay to the pug mill, where the clay was tempered with water in a rotary mixer, and a small portion of grog was added to the mix. One man tended the pug mill operation. The plastic clay mix was then forced through the brick-making machinery made by the American Clay Machinery Company. A heavy duty auger extruded the clay as an endless column 9 1/4 by 2 3/4 inches in dimensions. This clay column passed through an automatic wire-cutter that cut five bricks at a time. A broad belt conveyed the bricks to a double mold repress machine (Eagle block repress no. 85), the largest machine of its kind at the time, capable of pressing material 15 by 17 by 7 1/4 inches.

Livermore brickyard plaque The molded brick were hand-loaded onto the drier cars and set eight brick high. The drier cars, each loaded with 400 brick, were rolled into the drier shed to dry by steam for 48 hours. The dried brick were then taken by cars to the kiln, where the open floor design of the kiln allowed the brick to be set 28 high. No hand-trucking was necessary. After firing in the kiln, the brick were stacked in the yard awaiting shipment. Some of the higher quality brick were put into cartons for added protection in shipping.

During the first year of operation in 1910, the Livermore plant manufactured only firebrick. Production began in September 1910, with 17,000 firebrick, all unbranded, that went to the Oakland Paving Brick Company near Decoto. The Oakland Paving Brick Company took the first 700,000 firebrick and hollow tile produced from the Livermore plant. It wasn't until November 1910, that the first firebrick came out with the name LIVERMORE impressed into the face of each brick. These firebricks were first shipped to be used in a brick factory in Sacramento. The demand for Livermore firebrick was increasing. 400,000 firebrick per month were shipped by the middle of 1912. The plant also took special orders for refractory shapes, which took four weeks to manufacture. These include special shapes for oil, steel, and glass furnaces, rotary cement kilns, cupola linings, boiler settings, and locomotive blocks.

Livermore Fire Brick Company products
View of the Livermore Fire Brick Company products.
From Architect and Engineer, 1912.

A sales office was set up at the First National Bank Building in Oakland, with J. Young as manager. They placed Livermore firebrick on the San Francisco market and greatly undercut the price of fire brick of other manufacturers. In 1911 and 1912, orders came in for firebrick from Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Hawaii, and Mexico. The Southern Pacific Company ordered special locomotive blocks. Factories from major cities throughout California ordered the special shaped refractory products for their furnaces.

When James Norton became superintendent of the plant in September 1911, the company announced that it would make face brick, slip brick, glazed brick, and enamel brick, as soon as the new kilns were ready. That was in June 1912, when the first smooth face brick was produced from the kilns. The face brick was described as being very similar to the Carnegie buff face brick used on the Carnegie Library in Livermore. An order for 450,000 face brick for a building in San Francisco came in immediately.

In September 1912, the plant started to make rug face brick, or tapestry brick, using shale from the Redmond cut on the Western Pacific railroad near Altamont. The first 40,000 of these rug bricks were made for the Woodmen Building in Fresno. In the same month, the company announced that they planned to produce a vitrified brick for ornamental work and light wells. They also made vitrified red paving brick.

In January 1914, the plant produced its first diatomaceous earth brick, described as weighing only 14 ounces and a uniform cream color and 9 inches long. This light firebrick was to be used for fire boxes or insulation in kilns, furnaces, or refrigerators. However, it was not stated where the diatomaceous earth came from.

About 1914, the plant began manufacturing red pressed brick. Some of the first made red brick went into the foundation of the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore.

In 1915, General Manager C. K. Holloway left the company and his position was filled by T. L. Myers, who came from a large clay machinery company. It was reported that Holloway, one of the founders of the company, passed away at his Sunnyvale home in April 1916. Head Engineer Charles Crongdon also left the company in May 1915, and his position was filled by W. L. Harvey.

Although business was going well for the Livermore Fire Brick Company, a judgement was rendered against the company in favor of Walter S. Dickey, of Kansas City, Missouri, for $45,335.76 in the Superior Court on January 20, 1917. Just a month before, Walter S. Dickey and Fred L. Dickey, who were large stockholders in the Livermore company, had visited the plant. Walter S. Dickey was the owner of the W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company. Defaulting on payment of the amount of judgement, the property of the Livermore Fire Brick Company was sold at a sheriff's public auction on February 19, 1917, to the highest bidder, which turned out to be Walter S. Dickey. The Livermore plant remained opened while the company, now the under control of the W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, underwent a reorganization. See
W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company Plant No. 19, Livermore, for the continuation of this plant history.

Livermore Fire Brick Company ad
Advertisement of the Livermore Fire Brick Company.
From Architect and Engineer, 1919.

Livermore Brick

Firebrick

Livermore firebrick has a white to light buff refractory clay body with grog of subangular white quartz and white to cream feldspar up to 1/4 inch across. The face displays high-angle curved wire-cut grooves and pits. The sides and ends are smooth. Some firebrick may have impressed into one face the brand name LIVERMORE recessed in block letters. Split firebrick, which are thinner, shows either a number "1" or "2" impressed below the brand name. No. 1 split brick is 1 1/2 inch high. No. 2 split brick is 2 inches high. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut, repressed process. Manufactured from 1910 to 1917. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company firebrick
View of the face of a Livermore firebrick. Photo courtesy of Steve Curtiss.


Livermore Star firebrick has a salmon refractory clay body with large round to irregular shaped black iron blistered spots up to 3/4 inch across, and fine specks of cream feldspar and white quartz. The surface is smooth. Impressed into one face is the brand name LIVERMORE recessed in block letters inside an elongated hexagonal shaped frog 1/8 inch deep. The name spans 5 5/8 inches and is 5/8 inch high, set between two round screw impressions 3/8 inch across. The frog is 7 inches long and 1 1/4 inches high. This type of frog is distinctive for the face brick made by this company. Recessed into the face below the frog is a star symbol one inch across with a round screw impression in the center. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut, repressed process. Manufactured from 1910 to 1917. Length 9, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company Star firebrick
View of the face of a Livermore Star firebrick.


Livermore Diamond firebrick is similar to the Star firebrick, except it has a diamond-shape mark rather than a star on the face of the brick. The dimensions and style of the lettering and frog are the same as those on the Livermore Star.

Livermore Fire Brick Company Diamond firebrick
View of the face of a Livermore Diamond firebrick. Blacky Blackwell Collection.


Face Brick

Livermore face brick is light buff to dark buff, with very fine brown specks of iron and cream feldspar on the surface. Sides and ends are smooth and even. Corners are sharp and the edges are straight and sharp. High-angled curved wire-cut grooves and small pits may be seen on some faces, but pressed brick may not display these marks or show them very faintly. Impressed on one of the faces is the brand name LIVERMORE recessed in block letters and set inside an elongated hexagonal frog 1/8 inch deep. The name spans 5 1/2 inches and is 3/4 inch high, set between two round screw impressions 3/8 inch across. The frog is 7 3/8 inches long and 1 3/8 inches high. This type of frog is distinctive for the face brick made by this company. Manufactured from 1912 to 1917. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut, repressed process. Length 7 3/4 - 8 1/4, width 3 7/8 - 4, height 2 1/2 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company face brick
View of the face of a Livermore face brick.

Livermore Fire Brick Company face brick
View of Livermore face brick in the wall of the Martinez City Hall.


Rug Tapestry Brick

Livermore rug tapestry brick is light buff, salmon, or orange-brown, with round brown to black iron spots, subangular white quartz and white to cream feldspar up to 1/4 inch across. The darker colors are mottled with light and dark colors. The sides and ends have deep transverse grooves that extends 1/2 to 3/4 the height of the brick in an alternating pattern. There are 22 grooves on the sides and 14 grooves on the ends at fairly regular spacing. In some bricks, the alternating grooves are paired closely so that they give the appearance of single, but crooked groove. The ungrooved sides have a smooth surface that are burnt to a mottled dark orange-brown color. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut process. Manufactured from 1912 to 1917. Length 8 1/4, width 3 3/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company rug face brick
View of Livermore rug tapestry brick. Note the discontinuous transverse grooves.


Red Pressed Brick

Livermore red pressed brick is pale red to orange red, smooth granular surface with white feldspar and quartz specks, round black iron spots, less than 1/8 inch across. Corners are often broken. Edges are straight and sharp if not broken. Sides and ends display fine transverse striations or longitudinal brush marks. Some have a crackled surface, minor cracks, and pits. Top face may show six round screw imprints 5/8 inch across. Bottom face has a rounded rectangular frog 6 7/8 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch deep. Inside the frog is impressed in recessed block letters LIVERMORE that spans 5 5/8 inches long and 3/4 inch high. Above the frog are three round screw molds 5/8 inch across and three similar screws below the frog. This brick spalls easily. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut, repressed process. Manufactured from 1914 to 1917. Length 8 3/4, width 4 1/4, height 2 1/2 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company red pressed brick
View of the face of a Livermore red pressed brick.

Livermore Fire Brick Company red pressed brick
View of Livermore red pressed brick in the
wall of a business building in Livermore.


Red Vitrified Paving Brick

Livermore red vitrified paving brick is dark cherry red, smooth surface with round black iron spots up to 1/16 inch across, round red clay up to 1/8 inch across, and subangular white quartz up to 1/8 inch across. One side displays lugs separated by three deep transverse grooves 3/4 to 1 inch wide spaced evenly apart. The other side is flat. The faces display curved wire-cut grooves and pits with velour texture. On one face the longer edges are beveled. This is a heavy and tough vitrified brick. Stiff-mud extruded, wire-cut, repressed process. Manufactured from late 1912 to 1917. Length 8 1/8, width 3 3/4, height 2 5/8 inches.

Livermore Fire Brick Company vitrified paving brick
View of the side of a Livermore red vitrified paving brick.

Livermore Fire Brick Company vitrified paving brick
View of the face of a Livermore red vitrified paving brick.


References

Architect and Engineer, Sept. 1912, p. 182

Architect and Engineer, Oct. 1919, ad.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 38, no. 8, 1911, p. 443-444.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 39, no. 6, 1911, p. 23, 228.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 39, no. 7, 1911, p. 265.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 39, no. 10, 1911, p. 396.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 39, no. 12, 1911, p. 479.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 40, no. 7, 1912, p. 352.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 40, no. 10, 1912, p. 474.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 41, no. 1, 1912, p. 38.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 44, no. 3, 1912, p. 374.

Drummond, Gary, 7. Livermore's First Non-agricultural Industry (Brickyard)(1908-1949), Livermore Heritage Guild Historical Sketches of Livermore Area, June 29, 1999.

Livermore Echo, June 10, 1909, p. 1.

Livermore Echo, Sept. 29, 1910, p. 1.

Livermore Fire Brick Company, Information and Tables Pertaining to the Use of Fire Brick, 1911.

Livermore Herald, July 4, 1908, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, July 11, 1908, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, July 18, 1908, p. 8.

Livermore Herald, August 1, 1908, p. 5.

Livermore Herald, Oct. 3, 1908, p. 2.

Livermore Herald, Oct. 24, 1908, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, Dec. 12, 1908, p. 4.

Livermore Herald, Oct. 9, 1909, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, May 28, 1910, p. 7.

Livermore Herald, June 4, 1910, p. 4.

Livermore Herald, Nov. 26, 1910, p. 4.

Livermore Herald, Sept. 23, 1911, p. 5.

Livermore Herald, Oct. 28, 1911, p. 8.

Livermore Herald, June 15, 1912, p. 4.

Livermore Herald, June 29, 1912, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, Sept. 21, 1912, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, Nov. 16, 1912, p. 7.

Livermore Herald, Jan. 24, 1914, p. 1.

Livermore Herald, Jan. 20, 1917, p. 8.

Livermore Herald, Feb. 19, 1917, p. 7.

Mosier, Dan L., Brick Making in the Livermore Valley, Livermore Heritage Guild Chapters in Livermore History, Feb. 1983.

Copyright 2007 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.