California brick

Western Refractories Company


In 1944, the Western Refractories Company purchased the plant of the
Ione Fire Brick Company, located 1.4 miles southeast of Ione in Amador County, California. This company was based at 235 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. Eugene Corrigan of San Francisco was the manager. They mined high-grade fire clay and quartz sand from six different pits in the Eocene-age Ione Formation. Most of their clay came from the Yosemite clay pits at Ione.

Eugene Corrigan was born in 1868 in California. Little is known about his early life, except that he was married about 1904 and divorced by 1910, with two sons, Eugene and Bernard. We find him in San Francisco as early as 1910 managing a brick company. In 1930, he was a sales manager for the Stockton Fire Brick Company. He worked his way up to assistant manager by 1943. Corrigan was the manager at the Western Refractories Company in San Francisco from 1944 to about 1950, when Harry K. Chase succeeded him.

Ione Fire Brick Co. brickyard
View of the former plant of the Ione Fire Brick Company that
was acquired by Western Refractories. From Bradley, 1927.

Improvements were made to the old plant of the Ione Fire Brick Company, with the addition of a new kiln, for a total of six down-draft kilns, new machinery, and a dryer. They added machinery to make either stiff-mud wire-cut brick or dry pressed brick. For the stiff-mud brick, various clays and quartz grog were fed into a dry pan for grinding, then screened, then mixed with water in a pug mill, then passed through a de-airing machine, and extruded as a bar. The bar was wire cut and the bricks repressed and sent to the dryer. After drying, the bricks were fired in the kiln. For the dry pressed brick, the various clays were ground separately in a dry pan, then mixed in a wet pan, where a small amount of water was added. The mix was then sent to the dry press to be pressed into bricks. The bricks were sent directly to the kiln for firing. The firing process took 27 days: 4 days for setting, 11 for burning, 8 for cooling, and 4 for drawing.

This company made seven grades of high-alumina firebrick, available also in special refractory shapes. Some of their bricks were marked with the name "WESTERN" or "WESCO". They also sold ground fire clay to other companies. The Western firebrick was sold throughout the West to mills and factories from 1945 to 1958.

In 1958, Western Refractories Company sold their plant to the Refractories Division of Pacific Clay Products of Los Angeles, California. Bradley W. Wyatt was made the plant manager. However, Pacific Clay Product's President John D. Fredericks explained that the higher demand for their main product, vitrified clay sewer pipe, was the reason for not keeping the Ione plant. They sold the plant the following year to Harbison-Walker Refractories Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Apparently, not many firebricks from this company have survived, indicating perhaps a relatively low production history, of which little is known. I've seen only a few samples that I believe can be attributed to this company (see below). Corrigan's previous experience with the Stockton Fire Brick Company can be seen in the similarities of the bricks that he made at Western Refractories, such as in the style, color, and face plate, indicating similar clays and brick press used. Most of the other "WESTERN" brand firebricks that are commonly found today were made by the successor company Harbison-Walker Refractories, which are different. The main difference between the bricks from the two companies are in the markings and clays used. Although the lettering is identical in both, the difference is in the shape and style of the face plate used. Western Refractories used the rectangular-shaped plate, which may or may not be visible. Harbison-Walker used the rounded-rectangular plate. There is also a difference in the color and clay body of the firebricks from the two companies as they mined from different pits in the Ione district. Bricks of the Western Refractories are yellow or buff, whereas those made by Harbison-Walker are yellow, buff, or white.

For a continuation of the history of this plant, see Harbison-Walker Refractories Company, Ione.

Western Refractories Firebrick

The Western firebrick is yellow and mostly uniform in color. The edges are straight and nearly sharp to sharp. The corners are broken, but probably were sharp when new. The surface is smooth with flattened pressed clasts and may be crackled. A few round brown to black iron spots up to 3/8 inch across and subangular white quartz up to 1/4 inch across are visible on the surface. One of the faces display the brand name "WESTERN" recessed in block letters that span 5 1/4 inches in length and is 3/4 inch in height. The name is in a rectangular-shaped plate that is 5 1/4 inches in length and 1 inch in width. The interior clay body is composed mostly of subangular cream feldspar and yellow clay, up to 1/8 inch across, giving it a coarse granular texture. The quartz and iron are not more than 6 percent of the clay body. This brick spalls easily. It was made using the soft-mud, dry-pressed process. Length 9, width 4 1/2, height 2 1/2 inches.

Western firebrick
View of the marked face of the Western firebrick. The name is set inside a barely visible rectangular plate.

Western firebrick
View of the side of the Western firebrick.

Western firebrick interior
Close-up view of the Western firebrick showing white quartz and black
iron in a coarse granular texture of yellow clay and cream feldspar.

Western firebrick
View of the marked face of the Western firebrick without the rectangular plate outline.

The "WESCO" firebrick is buff, with a smooth, crackled surface and high in alumina. The marked face is centered with recessed block letters "WESCO", inside a rectangular name plate. The interior contains subangular cream feldspar in a granular clay body. This brick was made using the dry-pressed process. No measurements are available.

Western WESCO firebrick
View of the marked face of the WESCO firebrick. Photo courtesy of James Freedner.


American Ceramic Society, Bradley W. Wyatt, Bulletin, v. 40, no. 8, 1961, p. 538.

American Ceramic Society, Pacific Clay Sells Division, Bulletin, v. 38, no. 3, 1959, p. 122.

Averill, Charles V., and Norman, L.A., Jr., Counties of California, California Journal of Mines and Geology v. 47, no. 2, 1951.

California Death Records.

California Division of Mines, California Mining Review, 1958, Minerals Information Service, January 1, 1959.

Carlson, Denton W., and Clark, W.B., Mines and Mineral Resources of Amador County, California, California State Mining Bureau, California Journal of Mines and Geology, v. 50, no. 1, 1954, p. 149-285.

Davis, Fenelon F., and Goldman, Harold B., Directory of Mineral Producers in 1959, California Division of Mines 57th Report of the State Mineralogist, 1961, p. 125-184.

Davis, L.E., and Ashizawa, R.Y., The Mineral Industry of California, U.S. Bureau of Mines Minerals Yearbook, v. 3, Area Reports 1959, 1960.

Federal Census Records, 1910.

Federal Census Records, 1920.

Federal Census records, 1930.

Freedner, James, written communication, 2009.

San Francisco City Directories, 1943-1958.

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