Before the invention of steam-driven machines, bricks were moulded by hand. A great description of this is on the web site Ricks-Bricks: "The assistant brick moulder was called the "clot" moulder and he would prepare a lump of clay and give it to the brick moulder. The brick moulder was the key to the operation and he was the head of the team. He would stand at the moulding table for twelve to fourteen hours a day and with the help of his assistants could make 3500 to 5000 bricks in a day. He would take the clot of clay, roll it in sand and "dash" it into the sanded mould. The clay was pressed into the mould with the hands and the excess clay removed from the top of the mould with a strike, which was a flat stick that had been soaking in water. This excess clay was returned to the clot moulder to be reformed. Sand was used to prevent the clay from sticking to the mould."
"The next person on the team was called an off-bearer. He would walk up to the moulding table, remove the filled mould and take it to a drying area on a pallet or barrow where it would be placed on a level bed of sand. He would then return the mould to the table and wet and sand it to receive the next brick."
Over the years a few rudimentary tools were introduced to help streamline production and in 1830, Nathaniel Adams of Newburgh and Cornwall, NY, invented a moulding machine. However this required human or animal labor to operate.
George V. Hutton (a descendent of the founder of the Hutton Brick Company in East Kingston, NY) describes the drying yards at the Hutton factory: "they consisted of 10" of gravel for drainage, then 6 to 8" of blue clay on top, then 3" yellow clay on top of that and finally a coating of sand to keep the bricks from sticking. The beds were rolled flat and the workers had to remove their shoes." It would take 3 days of drying before the bricks were ready to be moved to the kiln.
"Even after drying in air the green bricks contained 9-15% water. For this reason the fires were kept low for 24-48 hours to finish the drying process and during this time steam could be seen coming from the top of the kiln. This was called "water smoke". Once the gases cleared this was the sign to increase the intensity of the fires. If it was done too soon the steam created in the bricks would cause them to explode. Intense fires were maintained in the fire holes around the clock for a week until temperatures of 1800 degrees F were reached. The knowledge and experience of the brickmaker dictated when the fireholes would be bricked over and the heat was allowed to slowly dissipate over another week.1" The brick were baked from eight to 12 days. Each finished brick weighed approximately eight pounds. Salt was added in the kiln "eyes" while the brick baked. This changed their color and made them waterproof. When the bricks were sufficiently fired, the heat was reduced, and they were allowed to cool gradually before removal from the kiln.
Then the entire kiln was usually disassembled and the bricks were sorted. "If only raw bricks were used, the bricks from the outermost walls were kept to be burned again in the next kiln. Some bricks which were closest to the fire received a natural wood ash glaze from the sand that fell into the fires and became vaporized and deposited on the bricks. These bricks were used in the interior courses of the walls. Bricks that became severely over-burned and cracked or warped were called clinkers and were occasionally used for garden walls or garden paths.1"
"The best bricks were chosen for use on the exterior walls of the building. Those that were only slightly underfired had a salmon color and early bricklayers knew that the porosity of these bricks would help to insulate the structure and they were placed on the innermost courses of the wall.1"
A Closter, NJ native, VerValen had lived in Rockland County, NY as a child, then left for upstate New York before returning to Haverstraw in 1848, where he worked manufacturing stoves and plows in his foundry. According to legend, it was in the middle of a Sunday church sermon that VerValen had a breakthrough and came up with the machine design. He patented his machine in 1852 and, its principles were "so workable and so novel to brickmaking" that they were used until a more advanced machine, incorporating some of his original ideas, was developed in the 1920s.
The benefits resulting from this composition are the saving of fuel, and the more general diffusion of heat through the kiln, by which the whole contents are more equally burned. If the heat is raised too high, the brick will swell, and be injured in their form. If the heat is too moderate, the coal- dust will be consumed before the desired effect is produced. Extremes are therefore to be avoided. I claim as my invention the using of fine anthracite coal, or coal-dust, with clay, for the purpose of making brick and tile as aforesaid, and for that only claim letters patent from the United States. JAMES WOOD.' Dated 9th November, 1836.
Wood, an Englishman, came to Ossining, NY in 1814 but found little clay there so he leased a yard across the river (from Daniel deNoyelles) in Haverstraw and established his first brickyard in 1815. Later he invented a machine for tempering clay.
WEBSITES: 1"Ricks_Bricks" (a great web site on Brickmaking c1850): https://www.ricks-bricks.com/thespiel.htm County of Rockland/HAVERSTRAW BAY COUNTY PARK: https://www.co.rockland.ny.us/environ/county/HaverstrawBay.htm The Neversink Valley Area Museum: https://www.neversinkmuseum.org/brick%20makers.html "HISTORY OF BEACON, Dutchess County, New York:" https://nynjctbotany.org/lgtofc/beacontown.html "History of Local Brick Making:" https://oldworldbricks.com