Front View of Thomas House

Ward-Thomas Museum

Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums

Five images of buildings and grounds

Niles Firebrick Company

Ward — Thomas Museum
Home of the Niles Historical Society
503 Brown Street Niles, Ohio 44446

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John R. Thomas, 1834-1898.

John R. Thomas, 1834-1898.
Founder of the Niles Firebrick Company PO1.1374.

Original Niles Firebrick Company plaque.

Original Niles Firebrick Company plaque. PO2.566

Niles Firebrick
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Niles Firebrick was manufactured by the Niles Fire Brick Company since it was created in 1872 by John Rhys Thomas until the company was sold in 1953 and completely shut down in 1960. Capital to establish the company was provided by Lizzie B. Ward to construct a small plant across from the Old Ward Mill which was run by her husband James Ward. Thomas immigrated in 1868 from Carmarthenshire in Wales with his wife and son W. Aubrey Thomas who served as secretary of the company until he was appointed as representative to the U. S. Congress in 1904. The company was managed by another son Thomas E. Thomas after J.R. Thomas died unexpectedly in 1898.

The Thomases returned the favor of their original capitalization by purchasing an iron blast furnace from James Ward when he went bankrupt in 1879. Using their knowledge of firebrick they were able to make this small furnace profitable. Later they used it to showcase the value of adding hot blast to a furnace using 3 ovens packed full of firebrick. The furnace was managed by another son John Morgan Thomas.

Fire brick was first invented in 1822 by William Weston Young in the Neath Valley of Wales, in the next county east of Llanelli where the Thomas family lived before emigrating to Niles. It is recorded that Firebrick was made in the Llanelli area in 1870 but the market was highly cyclical and it was difficult to make a living at it.

From 1937 to 1941 the company worked to prevent the United Brick Workers Union (CIO) from organizing the workers in preference for an independent union favored by management. The CIO union prevailed. In spite of this episode the company had good relations with the employees and tried to keep them employed during economic downturns. The "Clingans" mentioned in that referenced interview were Margaret Thomas Clingan, a daughter and John Rhys Thomas Clingan, a grandson, who took over management of the Company when T.E. Thomas died in 1920.

Patrick J. Sheehan worked various jobs at Niles Fire Brick Company from age 13 up until 1897 when he was appointed superintendent of the plant. When Sheehan started with the company they occupied a plant covering a floor space of 3,600 square feet, two kilns, and the output was 640,000 bricks per year. The plant was moved to Langley street eighteen months afterward, and the output increased to 1,200,000. This Langley street works was constantly added to each year, until the output was 6 million and in 1905 they built the "Falcon" plant on the site formerly occupied by the Langley street plant. Which doubled production to 12 million per year. By 1955 the output was 25 million. The new type of blast furnaces introduced after WWII made firebrick obsolete and the plant closed and was dismantled in 1974-75.

The work of molding and firing brick was highly labor-intensive. Immigrants from Southern States and European countries especially Italy were sought to perform the work under working conditions that were long and hard.

An article in the March-April "The Niles Register" of the Niles Historical Society discusses the history of the headquarters of the company at 216 Langley Street with a pattern shop in the back where skilled workers created the molds for custom bricks ordered by the mills in the 1902- 1912 period.
After that the pattern shop was used by the Sons of Italy and later by the Bagnoli-Irpino Club. This was a result of the large percentage of immigrants from the Bagnoli-Irpino area in Italy. One of the founders of the club was Lawrence Pallante an early immigrant from that area and presumably an ancestor of the reference articles. Immigration from that area began in 1880 and extended to about 1960.


Old #1 Plant, 1893.

Old #1 Plant, 1893.

A photograph of the Falcon Iron & Nail factory employees.

A photograph of the Falcon Iron & Nail factory employees. PO2.558

Mahoning River with Niles Firebrick

Mahoning River with Niles Firebrick
in the background. P01.562



Niles Firebrick workers ca 1894

Old #2 Plant, 1905

Old #2 Plant, 1905

A picture of a Niles Firebrick, manufactured by the Niles Firebrick Company.

A picture of a Niles Firebrick, manufactured by the Niles Firebrick Company. PO2.425


Sample book of Niles Firebrick Company.

Sample book of Niles Firebrick Company.

1924 photograph of Niles Firebrick samples.

1924 photograph of Niles Firebrick samples.

Sample page of Niles Firebrick Company.

Sample page of Niles Firebrick Company.


Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns.

Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns.

Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns.

Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns. PO2.474

Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns.

Aerial view of the Niles Firebrick kilns.


PRR yard with Niles Firebrick in background.

PRR yard with Niles Firebrick in background.

1960 view of Niles Firebrick Company.

1960 view of Niles Firebrick Company. PO2.494.25

1960 view of Niles Firebrick Company.

1960 view of Niles Firebrick Company PO2.569


A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant.

A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant. PO2.431

A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant.

A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant. PO2.140

A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant.

A photo of some of the kilns for firing the bricks at the Niles Firebrick plant. PO2.232


A photo of the yard at the Niles

A photo of the yard at the Niles
Firebrick plant. Note the
"company houses" in the background.
PO2. 427

 

Niles Firebrick pattern shop on Langley

Niles Firebrick pattern shop on Langley
Street on the lower east side of Niles. PO1.2312

One of a series of pictures taken by Mike Patrone during the dismantling of the Niles Firebrick and its surroundings. August, 1961.

One of a series of pictures taken by Mike Patrone during the dismantling of the Niles Firebrick and its surroundings. August, 1961.
PO1. 575

 


Taken on March 1, 1921, this photo shows the Hot Dry floor of the of the No. 1 plant of the Niles Firebrick Company.

Taken on March 1, 1921, this photo shows the Hot Dry floor of the of the No. 1 plant of the Niles Firebrick Company.

The floor space is occupied by these bricks for two weeks before they are deemed sufficiently dry to be used. PO2. 433

 

This photo shows the Hot Dry floor of the of the No. 1 plant of the Niles Firebrick Company being demolished in 1961.

This photo shows the Hot Dry floor of the of the No. 1 plant of the Niles Firebrick Company being demolished in 1961.

 

1946 Niles Firebrick Company payroll stub of Joseph Ciminero.

 



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