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Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Company

Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Works ad
Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Works advertisement.
From Architect and Engineer, 1911.

History

In 1863, Andrew Steiger established the San Jose Pottery on the west side of 5th Street between San Carlos and San Salvador in San Jose. Andrew Steiger was born in 1827 in Germany, where he learned the trade of making pottery. In 1856, he immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, and married his wife Paulina in New York. They had three sons and three daughters. In 1863, the Steigers moved to San Jose, California, to establish a new pottery business. When the sons George, Charles, and Louis, came of age, they all helped their father in the pottery plant. The plant was later located at the foot of Autumn Street, near the Southern Pacific railroad in San Jose. Products included terra cotta chimney pipe and tops, firebrick, stoneware, flower pots, drain and irrigating tiles, and vitrified ironstone sewer pipe. This plant was destroyed by fire about 1893. When Andrew Steiger had passed away in 1887, George Steiger took over the management of the company. He was later succeeded by Louis Steiger.

Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Works terra cotta
Steiger architectural terra cotta on the Grant Building, San Francisco.

In 1894, the Steigers decided to moved the pottery plant to Baden (now South San Francisco), where they continued to manufacture sewer pipe, terra cotta, tiles, pottery, and bricks. The new plant was located on the south side of San Bruno Point on San Francisco Bay, just east of the Western Meat Packing Company. At first, the company was called A. Steigers and Sons, but this was changed to Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Company when they incorporated in 1898. The plant started up in July 1895 and employed over 100 workers.

Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Works brickyard
Steiger Terra Cotta and Pottery Works, South San Francisco, CA, with
stacks of clay sewer pipe in the yard. From Aubrey, 1906.

In addition to the pressing and molding plant, there were ten round kilns located inside drying rooms. Three of the kilns were 16-foot muffle kilns and seven were 25- to 30-foot brick and sewer pipe kilns. The fuel used was oil. Clay was mined locally on the property and supplemented with plastic and fire clays from Carbondale, Amador County.

The first brick products from this plant were probably the red common brick and STEIGER firebrick. Later acid brick, red pressed brick, and tan and variegated wire-cut face bricks were added. In 1905, they introduced the PLUTO firebrick in standard and arch shapes.

Steiger products were used in many fine buildings in San Francisco, including Y.M.C.A., Humboldt Savings Bank, Levi Strauss, Rialto, Monadnock, Grant, Hooker and Lent, Ghiradelli, Jean Parker School, Girl's High School, Oriental School, Holluschickie Club, Olympic Club, California Pacific Title, Underwood, Press Club, Holy Cross Mortuary Chapel, Polytechnic High School, Mary Elizabeth Inn, and Sacred Heart College. Firebrick were sent to local factories and mines, such as the Hercules powder works at Hercules and the Westvaco mine near Livermore. Steiger's architectural terra cotta products were also shipped to building projects in other western states.

In June 1897, the plant was destroyed by fire, but was immediately rebuilt. In 1917, the plant was again destroyed by fire and it was permanently closed. Steiger reopened an abandoned brick plant in Vallejo, where they continued to make their clay products for a few more years.

Cupola of the Burlingame City Hall
The cupola of the Burlingame City Hall was preserved along with Steiger bricks in a parking lot in Burlingame.


Steiger Brick

Common Brick

Common brick was pale red to red, with no visible clasts on the surface and minor holes. Slight yellow flashing visible on some bricks. Some overburned. Rough, gritty surface texture. Straight sharp edges and corners. Hand-molded, sand-struck, soft-mud process. Faint transverse striations on the sides, with occasional deep transverse scoring. Some display prominent lip on top and some have lip on top and bottom, the top lip being more prominent. Broken surfaces may display the granular texture of coarse clay with white clasts. Bottom face is smooth with minor scrap marks. Top face may have irregular surface, full of holes. Length 8 - 8 1/4, width 3 3/4 - 4, height 2 5/8 - 2 3/4 inches.

Steiger common brick
Steiger bricks from the Burlingame City Hall.

Steiger common brick
Bottom face of a Steiger brick.


Steiger common brick
top face of a Steiger brick.



Firebrick

Steiger firebrick is pinkish buff, tan, or yellow with smooth faces and sides. Top face is pitted and displays longitudinal and curved wire cut grooves. Sides are smooth with fine transverse striations and a crackled surface. Edges and corners are dull, but may have been originally sharp. Visible clasts include subangular white quartz up to 1/8 inch across and round reddish brown iron grains up to 1/8 inch across. The brand name "STEIGER" is recessed in block letters within a shallow rectangular frog. One sample has a screw impression centered at each end of the frog, but outside of the frog. Name spans 4 1/2 inches in length and is 11/16 inch high, centered inside the frog. The frog is rectangular with beveled sides 1/8 inch deep, 5 to 5 3/16 inches long and 1 1/8 inches high. Stiff-mud extruded process, wire-cut, and represssed. Length 8 3/4 to 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches.

Steiger firebrick
Steiger firebrick with the yellow color.

Steiger firebrick
Steiger firebrick with the pinkish buff color. Photo courtesy of Patrice Malone.


Pluto firebrick ranges from white to tan with smooth faces and sides. Some may display an orange flash on the sides. The surface usually shows crackles or cracks. The edges originally were sharp or nearly so and the corners are dull. The marked face contains a shallow rectangular frog 4 1/4 inches long, 1 1/8 inches wide, and 1/16 inch deep. Inside the frog are recessed block serif letters spelling "PLUTO", which spans 3 5/8 inches in length and 15/16 inch in height. The top face may show faint transverse grooves and conveyor imprints of a series of parallel short dashes 3/16 inch apart, which are distinctive in Steiger bricks. The interior clay body reveals a granular texture with about 10 to 20 percent clasts of subangular white quartz, subangular to subrounded brown iron, subrounded yellow clay, all up to 1/8 inch across. In the white firebrick, the clasts range up to 1/2 inch in size and also include subangular granitic rocks and crushed red brick. The clay body shows a faint lamination on the faces of the brick. The Pluto brand was introduced in 1905 and made by the soft-mud, pressed process. Length 8 3/4, width 4 1/8 - 4 3/8, height 2 1/2 - 2 5/8 inches.

Steiger Pluto firebrick
View of the Pluto firebrick showing the marked face.

Steiger Pluto firebrick
View of the side of the Pluto firebrick with the orange flashing.


Steiger Pluto firebrick
View of the top face of the Pluto firebrick.


Steiger Pluto firebrick interior
View of the interior clay body of the Pluto firebrick.


Steiger Pluto firebrick
View of the side of the white Pluto firebrick showing the large clasts of granitic rocks and crushed red brick.


Arch Firebrick

Pluto arch firebrick is white with smooth surfaces that display large clasts and crackles or cracks. The clasts constitutes about 30 percent of the clay body and include subangular white and pink quartz, subrounded white clay or altered feldspar, subrounded to subangular crushed red brick, all up to 1/4 inch across. The interior clay body is granular with a faint lamination seen on the faces of the brick. The marked face has a shallow rectangular frog 4 inches long and 1 inch wide with recessed block serif letters spelling "PLUTO", which spans 3 5/8 inches in length and 7/8 inch in height. The Pluto brand was introduced in 1905 and was made by the soft-mud pressed process. Length 8 5/8, width 4 1/4, arch heights 1 3/8 - 2 1/4 inches.

Steiger Pluto arch firebrick
View of the white Pluto arch firebrick showing the marked face.

Steiger Pluto arch firebrick
View of the 2 1/4-inch high side of the white Pluto firebrick.


Pluto-2 arch firebrick is orange-tan with a smooth, cracked surface, specked with brown iron spots. The marked face has a shallow rectangular frog 5 inches long, 1 1/8 inches wide, and 1/32 inch deep. The name "PLUTO-2" is recessed in block serif letters that span 4 1/2 inches in length, 15/16 inch in height. The number "2" is 1/2 inch in height. The top face displays faint transverse grooves and conveyor imprints of a series of parallel short dashes 3/16 inch apart, which are distinctive in Steiger bricks. The interior clay body is granular with laminations seen on the faces. The clasts constitutes 45 percent of the body and includes subrounded white quartz and yellow clay up to 1/8 inch across. Rounded brown iron spots can get up to 1/4 inch across. The Pluto brand was introduced in 1905 and made by the soft-mud pressed process. Length 9 1/8, width 4 5/8, arch heights 2 3/8 - 2 inches.

Steiger Pluto-2 arch firebrick
View of the Pluto-2 arch firebrick showing the marked face.

Steiger Pluto-2 arch firebrick
View of the 2 3/8-inch high side of the Pluto-2 firebrick.

Steiger Pluto-2 arch firebrick
View of the top face of the Pluto-2 arch firebrick.

Steiger Pluto-2 arch firebrick
View of the end of the Pluto-2 arch firebrick with the 2 3/8-inch side on the left, 2-inch side on the right.


Acid Brick

Steiger acid brick is pale red with sand-struck sides. Minor tiny angular quartz and cream feldspars are visible on the surface. The top face has longitudinal striations and stack indentations. The bottom face is impressed with the company abbreviations in block letters as STC&PWKS on the first line and 396 beneath it on the second line. The mark is slightly off centered and crooked. The first line spans 3 7/8 inches in length and is 1/2 inch high. The second line spans 1 1/2 inches in length and is 3/4 inch high. Soft-mud process. Length 8 1/8, width 3 5/8, height 1 15/16 inches.

Steiger acid brick
Steiger acid brick.


Red Pressed Brick

Steiger red pressed brick is orange red with smooth sides and numerous small pits on the surface. Minor tiny angular white quartz up to 1/8 inch across are visible. The sides show a couple of stack identations. One face has longitudinal dashed imprints that might be from the conveyor belt. The other face is marked with a shallow rectangular frog that contains the company abbreviations recessed in block letters as "S.T.C.&P.WKS." on the first line and "S.F. CAL." beneath it on the second line. The first line spans 4 3/8 inches in length and is 1/2 inch high. The second line spans 2 3/4 inches in length and is 3/8 inch high. The frog is 4 3/4 inches long, 1 1/8 inches high, and 1/16 inch deep. Angled wire-cut marks show as short grooves on the faces. Extruded stiff-mud process, wire cut face, and repressed. Length 8 5/8, width 4 1/4, height 2 3/8 inches.

Steiger red pressed brick
Steiger red pressed brick displaying the marked face.

Steiger red pressed brick
View of the side of a Steiger red pressed brick.

Steiger red pressed brick
View of the back face of a Steiger red pressed brick showing the conveyor imprints.


Circle Brick

Steiger circle brick is pale orange-red with sand-struck sides. The sides are pitted and the faces show fine longitudinal striations. The edges and corners are dull. The interior is granular with subrounded red grains up to 1/16 inch across. One of the faces is impressed with the company abbreviations in recessed block letters as S.T.C.&P.WKS. and off centered. The name spans 3 3/8 inches in length and is 7/16 inch high. The long convex side is 8 1/2 inches long, the long concave side is 7 1/2 inches long. The width and height of the brick is 3 inches. This brick is hard and compact, probably formed by the soft-mud process in a mold.

Steiger circle brick
Steiger circle brick.


Face Brick

Steiger variegated salmon face brick ranges from tan to dark salmon with mottled gradations of the two colors on a single brick. There are large black round iron spots up to 1/2 across constituting 15 percent. The sides are smooth with transverse striations. Some sides may display a faint ruffle texture, indicating side cut bricks. The edges and corners are sharp when not broken. The faces are smooth. The example shown was made in 1911 for the Girls High School, now Benjamin Franklin Middle School at Geary and Scott streets, San Francisco. Extruded stiff-mud process, probably side cut. Length 8 3/8 - 8 1/2, width 4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Steiger variegated tan face brick
Steiger variegated salmon and tan face brick in the walls of Benjamin Franklin Middle School, San Franciso.


Steiger tan face brick is uniform in color peppered with tiny browm iron spots. The sides are smooth. The edges and corners are sharp when not broken. The faces are smooth. The example shown was made in 1914 for the Commodore Stockton School, now Oriental Public School, on Washington Street, San Francisco. Extruded stiff-mud process, probably repressed. Length 8 3/8, width 4, height 2 1/4 inches.

Steiger tan face brick
Steiger tan face brick in the walls of Commodore Stockton School, San Franciso.

References

Alexander, Philip W., and Ham, Charles P., History of San Mateo County, Burlingame, CA, 1916, p. 198-200.

Architect and Engineer, May 1911, p. 15.

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 23, no. 5, 1905, p. 162.

Davis, Fenelon F., Mines and Mineral Resources of San Mateo County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 51, no. 4, 1955, p. 401-458.

Federal Census Records, 1870.

Foote, H.S., Pen Pictures from the Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1888.

Gazette Times, October 13, 1894, p. 3.

Gazette Times, July 13, 1895, p. 3.

Huguenin, E., and Castello, W.O., San Mateo County, California State Mining Bureau 17th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1921, p. 167-179.

Malone, Patrice, written communication on Steiger fire brick, 2004.

Psota, Sunshine, written communications on Pluto firebrick, 2010.

Salata, James, San Jose brick collection.

San Jose City Directories, 1871-1993.

Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Map of South San Francisco, Nov. 1910, sheet 10.

Tucker, W.B., The Counties of Amador, Calaveras, and Tuolumne, California State Mining Bureau 14th Report of the State Mineralogist, for the Biennial Period 1913-1914, Part 1, 1916, p. 1-172.

Copyright 2008 Dan Mosier

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Please send email to Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.