In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire blazed through and leveled the almost entirely wood-built structures of the city. As a result, Chicago mandated stricter building codes that all but required brick.
Chicago brickmakers needed access to clay and shale to make and fire bricks. Fortunately, “blue clay” was plentiful in the Chicago River and the banks of Lake Michigan. These clay deposits furnished almost all the clay needed to rebuild the city.
Therefore, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Chicago was rebuilt almost entirely from Chicago itself! Today these famous clay bricks are called Chicago Common Brick. When fired, the blue clay becomes deep red, pink, salmon, or buff yellow, interrupted by random combinations of gold, yellow, or black.
Additionally, these bricks are high in lime, iron, gravel, and glacial debris, so they are typically rough and uneven. Because of this, you often see these types of bricks on the sides and back of buildings.
As a result of a century of Chicago brickmaking, this type of brick is found throughout the city of Chicago and in many of its suburbs. At Gralak Masonry Contractor, we have provided masonry services to these communities built with tons of Chicago Common brick:
- Edison Park
- Oak Park
- Park Ridge
See the areas we serve.
If your brick building was erected before the mid-1990s, it was likely built of solid clay bricks. However, if your home or building was built in the mid-1990s or later, you may have construction made of concrete bricks. Learn more about concrete block repair.
The last Chicago Common brickmaker closed in 1981—110 years after the Great Chicago Fire.
Reclaimed Chicago Common Brick
Recently, reclaimed common brick has also become popular. These bricks tend to be weathered or sandblasted. Therefore, these reclaimed clay bricks have a smoother surface. Consequently, they behave more like concrete bricks and may require seal coating.