Patent no. 1069. Filing year 1871.
"Automatic Machine for the Making of Bricks," H. Bulmer and C. Sheppard.
The construction industry underwent a revolution in the 19th century. Soon after the invention of an affordable means to make steel, in 1856, steel and iron frameworks began to replace masonry and wood as the structural basis for commercial buildings. The benefits were obvious: metal frames offered better resistance to fire damage and were more stable than solid masonry walls. Fortunately for brick-makers, bricks continued to be in high demand as the material of choice for building façades well into the next century.
Hand-operated brick presses -- machines that pressed clay into several molds at a time -- had existed since the late 18th century, but the rapid expansion of North American urban centres in the 1800s required new means to increase production. In 1871, two brick-makers from Montréal, Henry Bulmer and Charles Sheppard, patented their own answer to this need, an automated brick press. The "Canada Brick Machine," above, could be powered by steam, water or horse-power. Clay was mixed in a large, elevated tub and fed into an empty six-brick mold placed below. Levers pushed the filled mold under a press. The amount of pressure applied by the press could be manually adjusted.
Bulmer and Sheppard would have found their machine invaluable in the years to come. Montréal was by far the largest city in 19th-century Canada; the city's population ballooned from 100,000 in 1867 to 217,000 in 1891. The Canada Brick Machine is an example of the drive to automation that was spreading through all industries in the 19th century, saving time and labour while boosting productivity. A model of the device, provided by Bulmer and Sheppard to the patent office, can be seen at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Library and Archives Canada would like to thank Anna Adamek, assistant to the curator, Canada Science and Technology Museum, for her assistance with this profile.
Norrie, Kenneth and Douglas Owram. A History of the Canadian Economy. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada, 1991.
"Bricks." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999, pp. 97-98.
"Canada City Population History: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto & Vancouver." Demographia.
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