California brick
CALIFORNIA BRICKS


St. Louis Fire Brick and Clay Company, Los Angeles

St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company, Huntington Park

History


The St. Louis Fire Brick and Clay Company was incorporated on August 13, 1901 in Los Angeles, California, with a capital stock of $70,000, divided into $1 shares. $50,000 was subscribed by the directors, who were Erasmus Wilson and wife Flora H. Wilson of Kansas City, and Arthur H. Hollenbeck, Robert H. Knight, and Charles C. Knight of Los Angeles. The company office first opened at 121 1/2 West Third Street in Los Angeles, then moved to 147 North Spring Street and 158 North Main (Mesmer's Queen Shoe Store), before it was moved to the plant location in 1913.

Erasmus Wilson was the president and treasurer, Charles C. Knight, secretary, Robert H. Knight, vice president and general manager of the company. Perhaps the Wilsons had something to do with the name of this company, though I could not find a connection to any of the brick companies in St. Louis, Missouri. Erasmus was a stock raiser in Kansas City, Missouri, and how he teamed up with Los Angeles investors to form a brick company is curious. He was succeeded as president in 1903 by Reuben G. Simons, who had formerly operated a brickyard on 7th Street near Boyle Avenue in Los Angeles. The Wilsons moved back to Kansas City.

Joseph Mesmer
In 1906, Joseph Mesmer (shown on the right), who operated the Queen Shoe Store on Main Street, was elected the next president of the company. Los Angeles City Mayor Arthur C. Harper was elected the vice president; Mesmer and Harper being boyhood friends may have had something to do with that. But it was Mesmer who was mostly known with this company as he held the position of president until 1939, when he was suceeded by his son Al J. Mesmer.

In September 1901, the city granted the company a permit to build a new brick plant at 2464 East Ninth Street in Los Angeles. Arthur H. Hollenbeck was the first superintendent of the brick plant. He was succeeded by Thomas C. Mitchell in 1903, H. L. Hayes (1908), Mr. Fuller (1916), M. J. Findlay (1920), and others.

The first plant was destroyed by fire in November 1930 and not rebuilt. A new plant was built immediately at 3050 East Slauson Avenue in Huntington Park. In 1936, the company name was changed to the St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company as more insulation products were added to their product line.

St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Co. ad
Advertisement of the St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company in the Los Angeles City Directory 1936.

The St. Louis Fire Brick and Clay Company did not mine its own clay. Raw clay was purchased from the Alberhill Coal and Clay Company in Riverside County, Lincoln in Placer County, and elsewhere. The bricks were made using a four-mold Berg brick press and an extruding wire-cutter, operated by electric power. The plant had a capacity of 65,000 bricks per day. Three down-draft round kilns and two rectangular kilns were used to fire the bricks using oil and natural gas. The plant employed 16 workers.

Light colored fire clays were used for making pressed and wire-cut firebrick, which were shipped throughout the western states. These firebricks were given brand names of ST. LOUIS, LION, CALIFORNIA EXCELSIOR, and others. They were guaranteed to withstand temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees F, but one test in 1913 demonstrated that the brick held up at 3,090 degrees F. Special refractory shapes were also made. Silica refractory brick and cream-colored face brick were added in 1912. Magnesite insulating brick, containing 85 percent magnesia, was added in 1919. In 1931, rock wool insulating material was added followed by other types of insulating materials seen in their advertisements. The company name ending with "INSL. Co." appeared on firebricks in 1936, with the change of the company name. During the 1940s, hollow partition tile was added to the product line.

St. Louis firebricks have been used in boilers at mining, factory, and construction sites. In 1913, the sugar beet factory in Oxnard ordered 200,000 firebricks and the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation ordered 600,000 firebricks for their gas generators. Their face brick and hollow partition tiles were used in the buildings in Los Angeles.

During World War Two, the plant was operating at a 75 percent production rate, producing firebrick and rock wool insulation. After the war, the plant operated intermittently until 1949, when it permanently closed. The history of the Slausen Avenue plant after closure is unknown. Both plant sites have been built over by later developments.

St. Louis Firebrick

The earliest made firebrick were buff with smooth surfaces, nearly sharp and straight edges, and broken corners that were once sharp. The sides display faint transverse striations. The faces may be pitted and display longitudinal grooves and conveyor belt dash imprints. Brown staining from iron oxide may be present on the surfaces. On the marked face is a shallow rectangular plate outline 8 3/4 inches long and 7/8 inch wide. At each end of the plate outline are round screw imprints 3/8 inch in diameter. There appears to be two more screw imprints centered above and below the plate, but these may not be visible on every brick. Centered in the plate outline is the abbreviated name of the company in recessed block letters as "ST. L. FB. CLAY CO. L.A.". The name spans 7 1/2 inches and is 5/8 inch in height. The periods have a square shape. The brick interior contains 15 percent white subangular quartz, 30 percent subangular cream feldspar, and 5 percent round brown iron oxide, all up to 1/8 inch across, in a cream granular clay body. This brick was made in the 1901 to 1930 period using the soft-mud process and formed in a brick press. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a firebrick made by the St. Louis Fire Brick and Clay Company. Donated by James Freedner.

St. Louis Firebrick with serif letters


Another version of the St. Louis firebrick is the serif lettered brand. This firebrick is similar in color, form, and mineral content to the previously described firebrick, except the markings are different. The shallow name plate outline is much larger, measuring 6 1/4 inches long and 3 inches wide. There are three round screw imprints visible, about 1/2 inch in diameter, running through the center of the plate outline. Centered across the top half of the plate outline and above the three screws is the abbreviated name of the company in recessed serif block letters spelling "ST L FB. & C. Co". The name spans 5 1/4 inches and is 3/4 inch in height. The letters "T" and "O" are 1/2 inch in height. Beneath may or may not be the words "LA CAL" as seen in the examples below. This brick was made in 1914, but they probably range from some time after 1901 to 1930. This brick was made using the soft-mud pressed process. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis firebrick with a larger plate outline and serif letters. Collection of Blacky Blackwell.


St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis firebrick bat with only the "A" shown on the second line. Photo courtesy of Douglas McIntosh.


St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis firebrick with the second line absent. Photo courtesy of Douglas McIntosh.


St. Louis 24 Firebrick


Another type of firebrick made by this company is the number "24". This firebrick is similar in color, form, and mineral content as the ones above. The number refers to the alumina content of 24 percent, which is a low-duty firebrick. No plate outline is visible. The number is recessed on the face of the brick and spans about 3 1/2 inches and stands 1 1/2 inches high. This brick was made in 1914, but they probably range from some time after 1901 to 1930. This brick was made using the soft-mud pressed process. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis "24" firebrick. Photo courtesy of Douglas McIntosh.


St. Louis Lion Firebrick


Two versions of the LION brand firebrick are described here. They are buff with uniform color. The surface is smooth with minor pits and crackles and the visible minerals are granular and flattened. The edges are sharp and straight. The corners are sharp when not broken. The brick spalls easily. The marked face differs in the two versions. The first has a shallow rectangular frog 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. Across the top is the name "ST LOUIS FIRE BRICK" in recessed block letters that spans 5 3/4 inches and stands 1/4 inch in height. Below the name is a picture of a lion standing and facing to the left and is recessed into the center of the shallow frog. The lion is 2 inches in length. On each side of the lion are round screw imprints 3/4 inch in diameter. The second version has a shallow rectangular frog with rounded corners that is 4 3/4 inches long and 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches wide. The ends of the frog may be more rounded in some versions. Centered in the frog is the word "LION" in recessed block letters that spans 2 3/8 inches and stands 3/4 inch in height. On each side of the name are round screw imprints 5/16 inch in diameter. The brick interior contains 30 percent subangular cream feldspar, 10 percent subangular white quartz, and 5 percent round black iron oxide, some with blister holes, all up to 1/8 inch across, in a granular cream clay body. This brick was made using the dry-pressed or soft-mud pressed process. Both versions were probably made at both plants during the 1901 to 1949 period, exact years are unknown. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis Lion firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis lion firebrick. Donated by James Freedner.


St. Louis Lion firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis "LION" firebrick. Donated by Jack Bower.


St. Louis California Excelsior Firebrick


The firebrick is white and somewhat mottled with iron staining. The surface is smooth with tiny pits and grooves. The edges are straight and dull. The corners are dull or broken. The sides display transverse striations. The faces display faint curved wire-cut marks. The marked face has a large rectangular plate outline 9 inches long and 3 3/4 inches wide. The company and brand names are on four lines in recessed block letters 1/2 inch in height. The first line reads "ST. LOUIS", which spans 3 7/8 inches. The second line reads "FIRE BRICK & CLAY CO", which spans 8 3/4 inches. The third line reads "LOS ANGELES CAL.", which spans 8 inches. The fourth line reads "CAL. EXCELSIOR", which spans 6 1/2 inches. The periods are square shaped. At the four corners of the plate outline are round screw imprints 1/2 inch in diameter. The brick interior contains 15 percent subangular white quartz, 3 percent round black iron oxide, all up to 1/8 inch across, in a granular grayish white clay body. This brick was made by the stiff-mud process, extruded and wire-cut on the face. It was made during the period from 1901 to 1930, exact years are unknown. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis Cal. Excelsior firebrick
View of the marked face of a St. Louis "CAL. EXCELSIOR" firebrick. Donated by David Garcia.


Another variant of the California Excelsior has only the brand name CAL. EXCELSIOR recessed in block letters on the marked face. No dimensions are available.

Cal. Excelsior firebrick
View of part of the marked face of a "CAL. EXCELSIOR" firebrick. Photo courtesy of Jerry Doty.


St. Louis Firebrick - Insulation Company Firebrick


The surface color is salmon and may have been mottled with iron oxide spots and stains. The surface is smooth with flattened mineral grains, pits, and grooves. The marked face contains the abbreviations of the company name in recessed block letters. A frog is not noticeable in one example, but in another it is a narrow and deep rectangular frog with two round screw imprints within the letters. The name is "ST. L. F.B. - INSL. CO" and it spans 7 3/4 in length and stands 1/2 inch in height. The periods are square shaped. The brick interior contains 5 percent subangular white quartz, 5 percent round brown iron oxide, all up to 1/8 inch across, in a granular grayish white clay body. This brick was made using either the soft-mud pressed or dry pressed process. This brick was made at the second plant during the period from 1936 to 1949. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a firebrick made by the St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company. Photo courtesy of James Freedner.


St. Louis firebrick
View of the marked face of a firebrick made by the St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company.
This one shows a deep and narrow frog with the name inside. Photo courtesy of James Freedner.


References

Aubrey, Lewis E., The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, 1906, p. 216.

Averill, C.V., and Norman, L.A., Jr., Directory of Producers of Metallic and Nonmetallic Minerals in California During 1949, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 47, no. 2, 1951, p. 393-451.

Boalich, E.S., Castello, W.O., Huguenin, Emile, Logan, C.A., and Tucker, W.B., The Clay Industry In California, California State Mining Bureau Preliminary Report 7, 1920, p. 59.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 41, no. 11, 1912, p. 450.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 42, no. 9, 1913, p. 766.

Brick and Clay Record, v. 54, no. 3, 1919, p. 226.

Brick and Clay Record, Addition to St. Louis Fire Brick Plant, v. 78, no. 5, 1931, p. 291.

Brick and Clay Record, St. Louis Brick Rebuilding Burned Plant, v. 77, no. 12, 1930, p. 668.

Dietrich, Waldemar F., The Clay Resources and the Ceramic Industry of California, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 99, 1928.

Federal Census Records, 1880.

Federal Census Records, 1900.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Freedner, James, written communications, 2009.

Los Angeles City Directories, 1900-1942.

Los Angeles Herald, August 22, 1905.

Los Angeles Herald, St. Louis Fire Brick and Clay Company, April 5, 1908.

Los Angeles Herald, The Queen Shoe Store, September 3, 1905.

Los Angeles Times, New Insulating Plant Started, November 9, 1930.

Los Angeles Times, Rolph Meeting At Huntington Park, 18 August 1930.

Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1901.

Los Angeles Times, To Make Brick, August 14, 1901.

McIntosh, Douglas S., written communications, 2010.

Merrill, F.J.H., Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, California State Mining Bureau 15th Report of the State Mineralogist, part 4, 1917, p. 461-589.

Serr, Carol, written communication, 2010.

Symons, Henry H., California Mineral Production and Directory of Mineral Producers For 1936, California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 114, 1937.

U.S. National War Labor Board Records, Gladding McBean and Company (St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company), 111-8755 (10-D-543), 1943.

U.S. National War Labor Board Records, Gladding McBean and Company (St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company), 111-8756 (10-D-544), 1942.

U.S. National War Labor Board Records, St. Louis Fire Brick and Insulation Company, 111-8778 (10-D-547), 1945.

Copyright 2011 Dan Mosier

Contact Dan Mosier at danmosier@earthlink.net.