Brick and Tile manufacturing has been a very important part of Sioux City’s history. The earliest settlers in Sioux City and Woodbury County recognized the possibilities of rich clay deposits in the Loess Hills and started making brick and tile for many building projects. By 1890 there were seven brickyards in and around Sioux City producing tens of millions of bricks a year. In the early twentieth century the Sioux City Brick and Tile Company started operating in Sergeant Bluff and has been an integral part of the community since that time.
Brick was first manufactured in the area in 1856, both in Sergeant Bluff and by Lige Robinson in Sioux City. Other yards opened in the Perry Creek Valley. The hills surrounding Sioux City provided an enormous, seemingly inexhaustible supply of clay. “When the city’s oldest inhabitants were boys brick was an important manufacturing product of Sioux City, and when the sons of these same citizens are forgotten, Sioux City will still be making brick, so great are the deposits here” wrote an observer in 1922.
After the Civil War, the number of manufactories in Sioux City increased dramatically. Brick makers were no exception. The Holman Brothers began making common brick in Sergeant Bluff. Thomas Green started his Greenville brickyard in 1869. The Sioux City and Sergeant Bluff Terra Cotta, Tile and Brick Company opened in 1890. During these years, brickyards sprang up all over the city from Riverside to Leeds and from Springdale to Sergeant Bluff. “Sioux Cityans began to speak of them in the same breath that the spoke of the packing houses and flour mills.” In 1890 Sioux City was the largest producer of bricks west of Chicago.
The products of these companies were used all across the city and in distant places like Minnesota, Dakota Territory, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. In Sioux City, bricks were used to make houses, churches, huge factories and downtown buildings. Bricks were also used to make Sioux City’s early streets. The tile produced in Sioux City was made in differing qualities, some was used in homes and businesses and some was used to build the city’s sewers.
By 1912 Sioux City’s brick making industry was still going strong. There were two brickyards in Sergeant Bluff, one in Springdale and three in Riverside. In the early twentieth century, however, many industries across the United States were combining. Sioux City’s brick makers went along with the trend and, in 1913, the six brickyards in Sioux City became part of the Sioux City Brick and Tile Works.
This new company was under the leadership of L.W. Mallory. Most of the brickyards remained active, but the Springdale facility was closed to make way for a new factory. Leadership of the business soon changed and Daniel Parnell Mahoney took control of operations in 1917. Mahoney was a descendant of Loren J. Haskins who had been the long time owner of the L.J. Haskins Brick Company of Sergeant Bluff.
The brick making business boomed for Mahoney and by 1922 his three Riverside plants alone were producing over 100,000,000 bricks yearly. Because of this success, several new brickyards opened in Sioux City like the Ballou Brick Company and a new Tom Green Brick Company. None of these new operations, however, could compete with the awesome efficiency of the Sioux City Brick and Tile Company.
At the Riverside facility, a narrow gauge railroad connected the two hundred acre layout. The clay was dug out of the hills by giant steam shovels and dumped into specially designed rail cars. From the cars the clay was dumped into large bins where the clay was sifted, mixed, and molded. From there the bricks were forced onto conveyor belts to the driers, where the bricks were heated between 120 and 160 degrees to remove moisture. Then, depending on the intended use of the brick, they went to special kilns that could hold as many as 2,000,000 bricks. In the kilns the bricks were fired to temperatures of 1,800 to 2,000 degrees.
From the 1920s to the 1960s the Sioux City Brick and Tile Company produced many types and sizes bricks for different uses. The Riverside plants produced Cla-Rox Brick, hollow building tile, and Nu-Soo Brick. Some products were meant to be used as a veneer or surface brick. Most bricks produced by the company were secondary, which meant that they were not seen in a finished building. These bricks were used as structural members, like interior walls and foundations.
As the years progressed and building methods and materials changed, Sioux City’s need for different types of face brick rose. The result was the expansion of the Sergeant Bluff facility and the purchase of brickyards in Adel and Des Moines, Iowa in 1958. Sioux City Brick and Tile also opened a sales department in Bloomington, Minnesota. Unfortunately the need for secondary brick lessened in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The outcome was the closing of the company’s operations in Riverside in 1965.
The Sioux City Brick and Tile Company consolidated all of its local operations to the plant in Sergeant Bluff. Even with the loss of the Riverside facility, the company was able to produce more brick than ever before because of the renovations. The company remained prosperous for the next thirty years and in 1997 they replaced aging structures and equipment at the plant in Sergeant Bluff. The 1997 renovation included an 86,000 square foot, state of the art factory complete with robotics and a French kiln. In 2000 the Adel plant was similarly updated.
In 2004 the Sioux City Brick and Tile Company produced over 110,000,000 brick. That is an average year for the Sioux City company. The company makes many varieties of brick in different shapes and different colors. They had 125 distributors and their products were sold all over the United States from Iowa and Minnesota to New York and Chicago. The Sioux City Brick and Tile Company has preserved a long history of brick making in Sioux City and will continue to play a vital role in Sioux City’s history.
Christiansen, Thomas. “An Industrial History of Woodbury County.” The Unionist and Public Forum. Sioux City Public Museum, SC98.
Hoskins, Sam B. Early Topography of Sioux City. Sioux City Public Museum, SC17 HR 83.
Sioux City Brick and Tile Company. Sioux City Public Museum, SC54.
Sioux City Brick and Tile Company. Sioux City Public Museum, SC55.
“Sioux City Has One of the Largest Brick Plants in the Northwest. Sioux City Spirit of Progress Vol. 2, 1922.