Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



The C. P. Mayer Brick Company
January 26, 2017



The Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s January “Second Tuesday” program was a comprehensive review of the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, brickmaking in general, and the unusual hobby of brick collecting. Based on the variety of comments and questions it is obvious this was a popular topic.

The facilitator began with a brief overview of the brick-making process. Raw materials include sand (silica), clay (alumina), lime, magnesia, iron oxide, and water combined in fairly specific proportions. The mixture is then ground very fine; mixed well; and fired at temperatures well over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Mayer Brick Company mined shale on the site where the brick yard was located in Kirwan Heights, close to the place where Mayer Avenue crosses the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad today. The brick yard was built there in 1903 to take advantage of the shale deposit, a deposit that included all of the necessary constituents for good brick in the right proportions.

The shale was ground up on a Stevenson Dry Pan, screened on two Dunlap screens to remove oversize particles, mixed with water in a Freese Pug Mill, and fed into a “brick machine” which extruded a continuous strip of wet material eight inches wide and three and a half inches high. At some point a cutting machine separated the strip into individual bricks of the correct width.

The unfired bricks were then loaded onto pallets and transported into ten drying tunnels where the moisture content was reduced to about five percent. They were then loaded into six Wilson kilns where they were gradually heated to maximum temperature, a process taking forty eight hours. The exhausted waste heat from the kilns was used as a source of energy for the drying tunnels.

At its peak the Mayer Brick Company could produce either 20,000 paving blocks or 30,000 of the smaller house bricks in a day. They employed forty workers in the winter, expanded to sixty in the summer. William Der was the superintendent. It operated until the early 1950s.

As an example of brick-making before the days of mechanization, the facilitator showed a short clip from the movie “The Last Brick-maker in America”, a wonderful film starring Sidney Poitier in the eponymous title role as a master craftsman made obsolete by modern methods. It neatly shows a one-mule-power pug mill, hand molding individual bricks, and batch firing in a primitive furnace.

Mr. Mayer was a leader in every venture in which he became involved; brick-making was no exception. The facilitator showed several examples of his contributions to the “Common Brick Manufacturers Association of America”, as reported in technical magazines. In one case he advocated that the Association form an insurance company strictly for their own members, a recommendation that was eventually implemented. Mr. Mayer also received patents for two brick-making inventions – a turn table to facilitate positioning bricks in the kilns and a compressed air system to remove particles of unfired brick from the pieces before they were fired.

The mention of the Association prompted a member of the audience, Judy Oelschlager Dames, to tell us about a memorable experience her mother had in 1924. Employed as Mrs. Mayer’s companion, Judy’s mother travelled with them by train to Los Angeles for the Sixth Annual Association convention. One of Judy’s most precious possessions is her mother’s ticket booklet which describes the trip in great detail. It will be the subject of a future column.

The fact that one of the facilitator’s numerous eccentricities is his hobby of brick collecting is fairly widely known. He gave a brief description of IBCA (the International Brick Collectors Association) and some of the unique characteristics of this hobby. Brick collectors are not allowed to purchase bricks; bricks are acquired by finding them or by trading them with other collectors. Brick collections take up a lot of space for storage and require pickup trucks for transport, a dramatic difference from stamps or baseball cards. Nonetheless it is a rewarding pastime, enjoyed by a very special group of people.

The local IBCA representative is Jean Bear, a resident of Washington, Pa. She is easily the most knowledgeable person in the Association with regard to Mayer bricks. The facilitator showed a photograph of a small part of her collection, which included thirty six different designs of Mayer paving bricks.

There is a local (Bridgeville) legend that the Mayer Company provided bricks for the Indianapolis Speedway in 1909, stemming from a trip Mr. Mayer is reported to have made to Indianapolis at some point. The facilitator explained that there is considerable documentation that “the Brickyard” was paved with bricks supplied primarily by the Wabash Clay Company in Veedersburg, Indiana, supplemented by five other Indiana brick yards. There is no evidence that the Bridgeville yard was represented in this venture.

Next month “Second Tuesday” will occur on Valentine’s Day, February 14. We plan to discuss “Downtown Bridgeville in the 1940s”, focusing on the businesses on Washington Avenue in those days. We meet at 7:00 pm in the History Center, on the corner of Station and Railroad Streets.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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