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Fire Clay, Fire Bricks, and Refractories
The first firebrick plant in Missouri was built at St. Louis about 1845, and others were operating before the Civil War. By 1896, 12 firebrick plants were operating, and the annual value of their output was estimated at $900,000 to $1 million (Wheeler, 1896). The firebrick industry continued to expand up to about the time of World War I, but like most industries using clay, it too suffered severely during the depression of the 1930's. The recovery following World War II was characterized by construction of a few new plants, by the closing down of some of the obsolete ones, and by the modernization of others, chiefly by installing efficient tunnel kilns.
The area makes the largest contribution to the total output and value of fire brick and other refractories in Missouri, an industry in which the State ranks second among the states of the Union. It is further distinguished by what is considered to be the largest reserve tonnage of plastic and semi-plastic clays in the world." Hence, in this small area, one of Missouri's most valuable mineral deposits is concentrated.
Vandalia was called the Queen of the Prairie by Col. Aaron McPike who founded the city in 1874. The rolling prairies had underlying coal and refractory types of clay.
The firebrick industry has a long history in Audrain County. Settlers in the late 1800s knew their clay soil was better suited for firebrick making than for earthenware pots or bowls.
The northern district lies north of the Missouri River and in the fertile upland or prairie region characteristic of most of the northern portion of Missouri. The manufacture of fire brick and the mining of clay are the most important mineral industries; in fact the area makes the largest contribution to the total output and value of fire brick and other refractories manufactured in Missouri, an industry in which the State ranks second among the States of the union. It is further distinguished by what is considered to be the largest reserve tonnage of plastic and semi-plastic clays in the world. The available tonnage of flint clay, lying as masses or lenses in depressions at the base of the continuous and wide-spread Cheltenham formation or as outlying sinkhole deposits in the area marginal to the formation, is also considered to constitute one of the largest reserves in the United States available to the fire brick industry. The following companies operate plants:
1. A. P. Green Fire Brick Company, Mexico: In 1910, a young engineer named Allen P. Green bought the Mexico Brick and Fire Clay Company. A.P Green Fire Brick Company was incorporated in 1915, and by 1937 it had become "the world's largest fireclay plant."
2. Botfield Refractories Company, Mexico
3. Harbison-Walker Refractories Company, Vandalia: 1902, 14 companies merge to form Harbison-Walker
4. Mexico Refractories Company, Mexico: Established in 1929
5. North American Refractories Company, Farber: 1926, Six companies merge to become North American Refractories,
6. Walsh Refractories Corporation, Vandalia
7. Western Stove Lining Works, Mexico