In the early years of white settlement in North Dakota, there was a severe shortage of building materials, which is why many people made their homes from prairie sod. In some areas of the state, however, a good grade of clay was discovered, and within a few years, at least 18 brick factories sprung up. Among them was the Hebron Fire and Pressbrick Factory, founded in 1904.
The company was started by Ferdinand Lutz and Charles Weigel. The clay came from ancient formations 58-64 million years old and brought to the factory by horse and wagon.
A couple different methods were used to form bricks – some were dry-pressed and others were made of “stiff mud,” which used powdered clay mixed with water. The clay was cut into shape and then fired – “baked” in large coal-burning kilns for many days to become bricks.
In 1913, the plant expanded, and 12 continuous kilns were built into an outdoor embankment. With arched brick openings, the side-by-side kilns resembled an ancient Roman aqueduct.
That year, the factory turned out almost five million bricks. By the following year, railroad cars replaced horse-drawn wagons, and by 1916 well over eight million bricks were produced, with a production capacity for as many as 13 million.
Market conditions during World War I hit the factory pretty hard, and it became almost impossible to keep the plant solvent. Bankruptcy looked likely, and the stockholders authorized the sale of the property. The business offices moved to Fargo in 1921, and five years later, the sales manager, the plant superintendent and the president were all replaced. Disaster hit just a few months later when a major portion of the operating plant burned to the ground. Still, the company hung on. The factory was rebuilt, converting to gas-fired kilns.
Since then, the company survived the Great Depression, another world war, and went through five different owners, becoming very successful. Several different plants have been built on the original site, and after a hundred years of existence, Hebron Brick is not only the last surviving brick factory in the state, it is also the oldest manufacturing company of any kind in North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm