California brick

Pacific Pottery


Pacific Pottery ad
The Pacific Pottery was started in 1855 by Dr. Oatman on 16 acres of land at J Street near 34th Street in the eastern section of Sacramento. In 1856, Hevener & Walter operated the plant for the manufacture of sewer pipe and pottery. In 1863, Nehemiah Clark purchased the pottery and began the manufacture of vitrified sewer pipe, chimney pipe, and pottery. Firebrick was added in 1872. Clark was a native of Dover, Delaware, and came to California in 1850. His was among the first firebrick made in California, during a time when most firebrick were being imported from Great Britain and from eastern firms.

In 1866, a depot was opened at 42 Clay Street in San Francisco to sell its clay products. By 1872, they had opened a new depot at 3 California Street in San Francisco. In 1880, an office and depot was opened at 1047 Market Street in San Francisco. In 1883, the office was moved to 22 California Street. When Clark opened a new pottery plant at Alameda in 1886, his son Albert V. Clark became manager of the Sacramento plant.

The Pacific Pottery was a two-story frame building, 90 by 125 feet in size. This large building contained the kiln rooms, molding rooms, grinding rooms, and storage rooms. The plant used 3,000 tons of clay per year. The clay was obtained from Michigan Bar and transported to the plant by the Sacramento Valley Railroad. A rail spur one-half mile long connected the plant with two railroads. The machinery in the plant was powered by a steam engine. The plant burned 500 cords of wood a year. There were four kilns, each 20 feet in diameter and eight feet high. The sewer pipe was made using a Barber patent sewer-pipe press, with 80 tons of pressure, and a capacity of 1,200 lengths of two-foot pipe per day. The pipes ranged from 3 to 24 inches in diameter. The firebrick was made using a dry press of their own design. The plant employed 15 to 30 men and 5 horses. The workers lived in shed-like houses on the south side of the plant. The Clarks lived in a fine two-story frame dwelling on the east side of the plant.

During the first three years of operation by Clark, there was much experimenting and testing with the clay before he was able to produce good products. In 1871, Clark won a silver medal for his pottery ware at the Mechanics' Institute Fair in San Francisco. In 1872, a clay and mill shed, 28 by 34 feet, was erected and supplied with a Union two-stamp crusher and a dry-press brick machine for the manufacture of firebrick. An additional powerhouse of 45 feet square was added to hold the four-horsepower engine and boiler. The process of making firebrick was described as follows: "In the first place the clay is burnt till the shrinkage is entirely out; the stamps then reduce the burnt clay to pieces the size of grains of wheat; these pieces are next mixed with raw clay sufficient to insure adherence, and then after partial drying submitted to a press. Being burnt in a kiln, they come out perfect bricks." The "PACIFIC" firebrick was said to be equal to the English "COWEN" firebrick.

By 1874, the Pacific Pottery had produced 100,000 flower pots, 20,000 gallons of stoneware, 40,000 feet of stove pipe, and 28,000 firebrick. In 1874, roofing tile was added to the product line. In 1875, the plant was enlarged with new machinery and a new Union 30-horsepower engine with a 16-foot long by 44-inch diameter boiler to power the new presses. In the 1880s, the power was increased to a 40-horsepower engine.

On December 18, 1887, the Pacific Pottery was destroyed by fire, started by a spark in the kiln room. N. Clark & Sons decided not to rebuild the plant. The business was transferred to Alameda, where they had a brand new plant for the manufacture of firebrick, sewer pipe, pottery, and other clay products (see
N. Clark & Sons, Alameda County). Nehemiah Clark continued to reside in Sacramento, where he died in 1897 at the age of 68 years.

Pacific Brick

The firebrick is orange-red on the surface, but the interior is composed of yellow clay body, which is chalky soft. This brick is quite fragile and spalls easily. The surface is rough with numerous pits and black iron spots, up to 1/8 inch across. The edges are straight and the corners sharp, as if pressed in a machine. One of the faces is impressed with PACIFIC as recessed letters in the center of the face, but not always straight. The letters span 5 1/2 inches and are 7/8 inch high. A single thumb print is usually present near the left or right edge of the face with the brand name. A radial strike pattern is on the branded face. This brick was made between 1872 and 1887, by the dry-pressed process. Length 9, width 4 1/8, height 2 1/4 inches.

Pacific firebrick
View of the brand name on the face of the Pacific firebrick. Note the thumb
print in the lower left corner. Donated by David and Hildegard Gettner.


Hanks, Henry, The Minerals of California, California State Mining Bureau 8th Annual Report of the State Mineralogist, 1884, p. 142.

Pacific Rural Press, May 8, 1875, advertisement.

Pacific Rural Press, October 4, 1873.

Pacific Rural Press, September 23, 1871.

Sacramento Daily Union, April 8, 1874.

Sacramento Daily Union, August 1, 1866.

Sacramento Daily Union, August 11, 1875.

Sacramento Daily Union, December 14, 1872.

Sacramento Daily Union, December 19, 1887.

Sacramento Daily Union, February 20, 1877.

Sacramento Daily Union, January 1, 1879.

Sacramento Daily Union, January 1, 1880.

Sacramento Daily Union, January 14, 1888.

Sacramento Daily Union, June 29, 1872.

Thompson and West, History of Sacramento County, California, Oakland, California, 1880, p. 164.

Weber, Helen, written communications about newspapers, 2010.

Copyright 2010 Dan Mosier

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