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History of bricks in the U.S



Different types of building materials have been used in the United States since the colonial era. The first settlers in New England brought with them the architectural aesthetics of their European homelands. Generally speaking, there are two types of building materials – natural and synthetic – and both of them are used in the United States and around the world today. One of the most popular types of building materials which is still used on a regular basis is standard brick.

There are many different ways to describe a brick, but generally speaking, it is a small rectangular block that is usually made of sun-dried or fired clay and used in buildings. So, we are talking about raw and natural building material. According to some sources, the first bricks were used more than 9000 years ago in Asia. Obviously, they were used much later in the United States. Before we go into details, we would like to point out a few other things.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of different types of bricks. They can be categorized in many different ways too – by use, by manufacture method, by origin, by quality etc. Regardless of their type, bricks are still a very popular building material because they are completely natural, inexpensive, durable and distinguished in their appearance.


A history of brick in the U.S.

As previously mentioned, bricks as building materials arrived a little bit later in the U.S. compared to Europe, Asia, and Africa. The first bricks here were used by English colonists and even though there is no official record, it is estimated that they were used for the first time in the beginning of the 17th century. According to a few sources, standard bricks were first made in Virginia in the 1610s. What’s known definitively is that New England manufactured the first brick kiln in 1629 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts. After the establishment of the first colonies, the settlers recognized the demand for brick manufacturing in the U.S. This is how the first facilities for the mass production of bricks were created in Albany, New York, Trenton and Burlington, New Jersey.

Today, there are three different methods used in the brick-making process. In the past, especially during the 18th and 19th century, manufacturers relied on clay and sand or shale as basic ingredients to make bricks. Even back then, this was not a simple process and it included a several labor-intensive stages: molding, drying, burning and of course – transporting.

Bricks based from clay and shale are usually considered to be the best option because of their visual appearance and durability. Even today, when US construction companies have an option to choose between many different buildings materials, many of them prefer bricks.

Prior to its establishment as an independent country, fired clay brick was the most popular building material in the United States. Due to the fact that bricks are very durable and sturdy, it is not unusual to see many brick structures made in colonial times today. The Independence Hall in Philadelphia, for instance, is made of clay bricks (est. 1753). The State House in Boston (est. 1713) and St. Luke’s Church in Virginia (est. 1632) were also made of this type of standard brick material. Thanks to their simple shape and building flexibility as well as the ease of transportation and use, bricks have been the preferred option for construction for different commercial and residential buildings in the U.S. Today, the tallest skyscraper in the world made completely out of bricks is found in Chicago – the Monadnock Building. Even Thomas Jefferson opted to use bricks in the University of Virginia. Historically bricks were and continue to be used in buildings with different architectural designs.

Historically, it was customary for local authorities in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis to mandate the use of bricks in local building codes. This was typical for areas that were affected by large fires. The previous use of wood as a building material forced the authorities to search for fireproof building materials as a solution for these epidemics. Starting from the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, bricks began gaining even more popularity and utility among business owners and ordinary homeowners.

Bricks in the United States gained widespread popularity for being stronger, more durable building materials than their counterparts. Brick building material brings many advantages when compared to wood. Before long, homeowners, builders and contractors started using brick not just for walls and buildings, but also for pedestrian precincts and paving. It’s also worth mentioning that bricks are often used in industries that need furnaces. Of course, the bricks used for this purpose can withstand very high heats (over 1,500 degrees). On the subject of heat resistance, we should also mention that bricks are commonly used for building fireplaces inside homes. Bricks, therefore, are one of the rare building materials that can be used in interiors and exteriors and for both residential and commercial buildings and structures.

The history of bricks as building materials in the United States began in the early 17th century. However, today, more than ever before, builders, architects, interior designers and homeowners appreciate the flexibility, attractiveness and durability bricks add to both exterior and interior designs. This natural building material is used everywhere in the United States from hotels and churches to conference centers. Brickwork is incorporated in the interior and exterior design to boost intimacy, to make buildings remarkably distinguished and to ensure the longevity of any structural or decorative brick application for decades, even centuries to come.

For additional information about our brick tile options, please visit our Thin Brick products page. Feel free to email us at design@realthinbrick or call our main line.

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