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Want to tour a brick factory?

By Staff | Oct 26, 2018

Darcy Dougherty Maulsby is shown here holding her commemorative brick from United Brick in Adel that she received when she attended the factory tour during the Van and Bonnie WHO Radio morning show on October 19. Maulsby is shown here with hosts Van Harden and Bonnie Lucas from WHO Radio.

Brick factories may seem like a thing of the past, but they are big business in Dallas County. So big, in fact, that when the WHO 1040 morning radio team of Van Harden and Bonnie Lucas broadcast their morning show on Oct. 19 from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. from United Brick in Adel, more than 550 guests showed up to tour the factory.

I thought I was coming from a long ways away driving in from Lake City. Ha!

Guests who listen to Van and Bonnie via iHeartRadio online traveled from Branson, Missouri, and even Los Angeles, California. Unbelievable.

Brick factories do hold a special place in Iowa’s manufacturing sector. The Adel plant, for example, is one of only three brick plants left in Iowa. (The other two are in Redfield and Sergeant Bluff.)

There was a time, however, when Iowa boasted roughly 300 brick and tile plants across the state. Most got their start in the late 1800s, when bricks were in high demand to build stores and homes in towns and cities. By the early 1900s, clay tiles were big business to help famers turn soggy land into rich, productive fields. As one of my central Iowa friends said, “Brick and tile helped build Iowa’s farms and roads.”

This legacy lives on at United Brick in Adel, which has been in business since the 1880s and currently employs 100 to 120 people. I wrote about the plant in my Dallas County history book published by Arcadia Publishing in 2017 and included a picture of the beehive kilns that were circa 1900, but I really didn’t know much of the plant’s recent history. What a fascinating story it is!

– The pit that supplies the clay for the brick factory in Adel is located just over the hill behind the plant, which is located on the west edge of town.

– The plant produces about 1 million bricks each week. Most are architectural bricks that go into schools, banks and other buildings across the United States and Canada.

– It takes approximately five days to go from mixing the clay and water to make bricks to shipping the final product.

– After bricks are shaped, they must be dried to reduce the moisture from 15 percent to 0.2 percent. Otherwise they can pop like popcorn in the kiln.

– The kiln where the bricks are fired runs close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

– Bricks are available in approximately 200 colors, along with multiple sizes and textures. Talk about endless options.

– The brick factory in Adel can produce up to 120 million bricks a year at full capacity.

– All the bricks from one order are produced in the same batch to ensure that the color of the bricks is consistent.

– There are 14 million bricks (including many bricks from the Adel plant) behind the stone in Iowa’s capitol building in Des Moines.

– The bricks in Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines came from the Adel plant.

  • An average ranch-style house made of brick on all four sides contains roughly 12,000 bricks.

Darcy Dougherty-Maulsby (a.k.a) Yetter-girl grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and is proud to call Calhoun County home.

Contact her at yettergirl@yahoo.com and visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.

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