Alliance Brick Industry

This article was written for and first appeared in a local newspaper.  The name of the paper and publication date are unknown.

by Gary Miller

They stand like sentinels at attention, three decrepit and timeworn red brick buildings, in a row, looking down on what once was.  Their windows broken and boarded-up, they give little indication of the half-century of enormous productivity that took place below them.

These three buildings stand at the edge of a multi-acred section of property bordered by U.S. Route 62 and South Mahoning Avenue in Alliance.  Extending out from them, in a northeasterly direction, stand the structural remains of a once-thriving brick and clay products industry that helped make Stark County the paving brick capitol of the world in the 1920’s.  As early as 1907, James Wilcox’s Alliance Clay Products Company was turning out 18,000 brick a day from a single plant at 1500 South Mahoning Avenue.  By 1924, Wilcox had three plants in operation at the same location and was capable of producing 275,000 bricks a day, or about 50,000,000 a year!  But Mr. Wilcox was not the first.

Brickmaking actually started in Alliance during the 1860’s, just before the civil war.  The distinction as the first successful brickmaker in Alliance goes to Josiah Rosenberry who garnered the clay for his bricks from a pond on what is now known as the Glamorgan Estate.  In 1867 he furnished 650,000 bricks for the construction of Alliance College (now Mt. Union).  Unfortunately, Rosenberry also supplied brick for the construction of the Alliance Opera house, which collapsed without warning on June 2, 1886.  Mr. Rosenberry was out of business shortly thereafter.

The manufacture of clay products did not become an important industry to Alliance until after 1900.  There were five brickmakers and two clay products companies before that time buy only two made it through the turn of the century.  One was Rosenberry.  The other was John Auld and Sons who started in business in 1889 and continued until 1906 when they reorganized and became Alliance Builders Supply Company.  Coincidentally, 1906 was the year of incorporation of the Alliance Brick Company by F.A. Hoiles.  Hoiles built his first plant in 1909 on a 150 acre tract of land between Alliance and Sebring with a production capacity of over a million bricks per month.  But the demand for bricks was on the rise so Hoiles built a second plant on 35 acres of land adjacent to Wilcox’s Alliance Fire Clay Products Company and extended his capacity to almost three million bricks a month by 1926.  By the mid-twenties two major brick producing companies were operating out of that corner section of property bordered by South Mahoning and U.S. Route 62 with a capability of producing upwards of 70,000,000 bricks per year.  Nearly all of this brick was used for road surfacing and building facing.  And it was a very high quality product.

Stark County was, and probably still is, a brickmaker’s paradise.  Thanks to the last glacial period, Stark County is endowed with tremendous quantities of clay, coal, sand and gravel.  For thousands of years, mile-high layers of ice compacted the soil into clay and shale strata that can be found, in varying amounts, almost everywhere in the county.  The glacial period provided us with something else too.  Surface vegetation was compressed and compacted by immeasurable forces into accompanying coal strata.  So the early brickmakers could, and did, find all the raw materials, including fuel, they needed to manufacture their product on the same small parcel of property.  They were, in fact, self-supporting.  An advertisement for Alliance Fire Clay Company in 1868 reads, ‘Most of all the ware manufactured from Fire Clay can be burned with coal, which makes this company almost independent in the nominal cost of mining – while it takes only from five to twenty days for them to turn their raw material into cash, from the time they strike the pick into the clay and coal.’  That is just about any manufacturers’ dream-come-true.  Stark County’s brick industry blossomed to a peak period in 1925 when they contributed substantially to a national production of over 10 billion bricks.

For about seventy years, the clay products industry was of considerable economic importance to Alliance.  The 1960’s saw a change in the industry as Alliance Clay Products began closing plants and Alliance Brick Company began modernization to compete in a changing market.  Alliance Brick held out through the fifties and sixties, employing about 50 men, but eventually sold out to another very old name in Stark County’s clay products industry: Whitacre-Greer.  This situation, however, was not unique to Alliance.  According to the Department of Commerce, paving brick production dropped by 95% from 1925 (the peak period) to 1947.  This was due, in large part, to the development of smoother road surfacing materials needed for the burgeoning automobile industry and the frenzied highway construction efforts of post World War II.  In 1925 there were 13 active brick companies in Stark County; in 1975 there were 5.  Company failures were caused by everything from labor problems to the inability to adapt to new trends.  Marketing savvy began to playing an increasingly important role in business survival.  A 75 percent failure rate for the clay construction products industry with a 50 year period pointed unerringly to centralization of the industry.  The day of the small operator was over.  Now, just a few plants that have been modernized and streamlined equal, and exceed, the output of the many smaller companies of yesteryear.  For many, the dream ended.

Today, the Whitacre-Greer Fireproofing Company is the lone flag-bearer of a vanished industry that was once the pride of Alliance.  They purchased the Alliance Brick plant in July of 1972 and are carrying on a tradition that began in 1916 with the founding of their company in ‘the Paving Brick Capitol of the World.’