Thursday, March 29, 2012
“Zugzwang” in Afghanistan
Afghanistan today presents the with a Zugzwang moment. Will our future actions there be seen as those of a bully or a friend? U.S.
: How Wrong Were They? Iraq
Twenty-five hundred years ago a Chinese military strategist named Sun Tzu warned against engaging in long wars. The Soviet Union learned the wisdom of this advice in 1988, when it was forced to abandon its disastrous nine-year-long campaign in
. Weakened, the entire Soviet system collapsed in 1991. Afghanistan
Fast-forward ten years. To punish them for harboring al-Qaida members training for 9/11, the
U.S. launched an attack on the Taliban in in October of 2001. Afghanistan
Today, in the eleventh year of an interminable war in
, we are still being given empty assurances that success is within our grasp. Leave too soon, the warning goes, and the corrupt, graft-ridden country will descend into the kind of sectarian violence now plaguing Afghanistan . Iraq
In the game of chess, there is a concept called a Zugzwang (German for “compulsion to move”) in which a player gets into an untenable position. No matter what subsequent moves are made, the situation only becomes worse.
Two unfortunate incidents--one involving the burning of copies of the Koran and the other the murder of 17 Afghan civilians by a mentally unstable American sergeant--have placed the safety of American troops and aid workers in jeopardy, and the future of the anti-terrorism operation and reconstruction in doubt.
Osama bin Laden is dead, but his message that the West wants to dominate the Middle East to subjugate its people, destroy its religion and exploit its resources has been given additional life by our continuing presence and by such incidents.
The Lessons of History
In the lead-up to the short Iraq war and the long occupation of
that followed, many wild predictions were made. In the end, the Muse of History separated the few seers from the many charlatans. Before embarking on any future course of action in Iraq Afghanistan, we should take counsel from what we learned in . Iraq
Only one realist saw
in the proper light in 2003: Gen. Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25, he was pressed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to estimate the size of an allied occupation force that would be needed after victory in Iraq . Iraq
Weighing his words carefully, the general, a
West Point graduate, offered his best professional military opinion that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers is probably the figure that would be required." He added, "We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."
General Shinseki knew whereof he spoke; he formerly commanded the allied peacekeeping effort in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Clearly irritated by the general's statement, within hours Pentagon civilians went into action to discredit him.
Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the same committee three days later and pooh-poohed the general's troop estimate as "wildly off the mark." Completely ignoring the underlying ethnic and religious factionalism viciously suppressed by Saddam Hussein, he claimed that
Iraq had no history of the kind of ethnic strife that plagued and Kosovo. Bosnia
Iraqi civilians would welcome allied forces joyously, Wolfowitz predicted, and
would generate $15 billion to $20 billion annually in oil revenue to pay for reconstruction. Iraq
General Shinseki’s boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also retaliated by announcing the name of his successor as Army Chief of Staff more than a year before his retirement.
Arranged in chronological order, here are opinions voiced by various pundits and politicians about
1. "It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that
possesses weapons of mass destruction." --Fred Hiatt, Opinion page editor, The Iraq Post, Feb. 6, 2003. Washington
2. "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating
will be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps." --Ken Adelman, former Rumsfeld assistant, in The Iraq Post, Feb. 13, 2003. Washington
should become a democracy. After all, the president has repeatedly cast the impending war as an effort to bring democracy to a land that for decades has known only dictatorship. Having defeated and then occupied Iraq , democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for the world's sole superpower." --William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard, Feb. 24, 2003. Iraq
4. "And I said on my program, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again." --Bill O'Reilly on Good Morning
, March 18, 2003. America
5. "So it turns out that all the slogans of the anti-war movement were right after all. And their demands were just. 'No War on
Iraq,' they said--and there wasn't a war on . Indeed, there was barely a 'war' at all. 'Stop the war' was the call. And the 'war' is indeed stopping. That's not such a bad record." --Christopher Hitchens, Slate, April 9, 2003. Iraq
6. "We really don't need the Europeans. Anyway, they will be the first in line patting us on the back following our success and saying they were with us all along. Only fear will re-establish [Arab] respect for us." --Former CIA Director James Woolsey in the
Sunday Herald, April 13, 2003. Glasgow
accomplished.” –Banner displayed during Pres. George W. Bush’s speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003. Mission
8. "The failure of the Bush team to produce any weapons of mass destruction in
is becoming a big, big story. But is it the real story we should be concerned with? No. It was the wrong issue before the war, and it's the wrong issue now. Why? Because there were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason." --Thomas L. Friedman, columnist, The New York Times, June 4, 2003. Iraq
9. "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." --Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Defense Secretary, in Vanity Fair, July 2003.
10. "The war has been a magnificent success. Liberals carp about every bombing. We're not liberating
here. After we won the war in 17 days flat, with amazingly few casualties, they complained about some museum pottery being broken." --Ann Coulter, speaking at Northwestern University, Nov. 21, 2003. Ohio
11. [See comment 4] "I'm sorry." --Bill O'Reilly apologizes on Good Morning
, Feb. 11, 2004. America
12. [See comment 11]”But then I go on Good Morning America yesterday and say that I'm personally sorry my analysis on WMDs before the war was wrong, and I'm angry about the CIA mistake. Well, that's dishonest. I still believe removing Saddam was the right thing to do and that history will prove it. And there's also the possibility that WMDs will be found, so I might have to apologize for my apology. I don't mind. I still hope they find WMDs. --Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor," Feb. 12, 2004.
13. "With the capture of Saddam Hussein the war in
is largely over." --Sean Hannity in his book, "Deliver Us from Evil," Feb. 29, 2004. Iraq
14. "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." --Vice President Dick Cheney on Larry King Live, June 20, 2005.
15. "But, lest we build up the enemy into 10-foot-tall supermen, it's important to realize how weak they are. Most of the conditions that existed in previous wars waged by guerrillas, from
Algeria in the 1950s to Afghanistan in the 1980s, aren't present in . “--Max Boot, columnist, Iraq Times, June 23, 2005. Los Angeles
The Cost of Being Wrong
Iraq refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, the last U.S. troops were gone by Dec. 18, 2011.Here’s what all the bad guesses, empty words and macho swagger cost us in : Iraq
A total of one trillion
U.S. tax dollars, 4,486 U.S. dead (3,532 sacrificed in combat) and 32,223 wounded “officially” bearing the scars of war. Unofficial estimates of the emotionally wounded are much higher. U.S.
Monday, March 19, 2012
The Short, Tragic Life of Robert Fulton, 2: Gone Too Soon
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
Fulton became acquainted with Robert R. Livingston, who was in Paris to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. The two formed a partnership to create a steam vessel. Fulton would supply the know-how; Livingston, who had already obtained a monopoly for steamboat use on the , would furnish the financing. Hudson had lodged at the
An American in Paris
Left Bank pension of Madame Hillaire, a favorite stopping place of Americans. Among guests there was 41-year-old Ruth Baldwin Barlow. A sister of Abraham Baldwin, a U.S. senator from Georgia, she was waiting for her husband, Joel Barlow, to return from Algiers, where he had been negotiating for the release of American sailors captured by Barbary pirates. quickly recognized that Barlow was a man of the world who could help him. For his part, the childless Barlow was happy to instruct the younger man, introduce him to important people, lend him money and engage a tutor to teach him French. Fulton
A Surprise Marriage
Fulton had been unable to patent his design (because it consisted of elements not sufficiently original), so he spent much of his time back in New York defending the monopoly against usurpers operating steamboats in and near the . Nevertheless, he was able to design and operate a fleet of larger and heavier boats, including one to ply the rougher waters of Long Island Sound. Hudson
Robert Fulton was truly a renaissance man. Artist, inventor, entrepreneur and dreamer of ambitious dreams--he was all of these and more. Each aspect of his genius merits a full-scale biography.
Born on a farm near
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 14, 1765, he became an apprentice to a jeweler in making miniature paintings for lockets. Philadelphia at the age of 17,
By 1787, he had saved enough money to buy passage to
, where he intended to study painting. Four years later, England Fulton’s skill attracted the attention of Viscount William Courtenay, who invited him to come to his Powderham Castle in Devonshire to paint his portrait.
Courtenay, 23, was more than just a wealthy young aristocrat anxious to have his portrait painted. He was one of
's most notorious homosexuals. Britain remained in residence at Powderham for a year and a half, during which time he painted a portrait of Courtenay and a few historical subjects, all of which have disappeared. Whether Fulton partook in the way of life around him is unknown, but he could hardly have been unaware of it. Fulton
At about that time,
was undergoing a canal-building boom. Britain decided to concentrate on engineering instead of art. Attracted by Fulton France’s offer of subsidies for technological development, he moved to in 1797, but was unsuccessful in selling Napoleon the design of an underwater torpedo with which to blow up the English fleet. Paris
An American in Paris
Ruth was a woman of remarkable charm and wit. When her husband returned from
, he was overjoyed to find that handsome bachelor Fulton, tall and broad-shouldered, had become her close companion. The relationship soon became even more intimate. The trio left Madame Hillaire’s for other quarters on the Algiers Left Bank.
Joel Barlow, 43, eleven years
's senior, had a number of careers: ambassador, lawyer preacher and poet. His best-known poem, a long and tedious patriotic epic titled The Vision of Columbus, is virtually unreadable. The Barlows had been married since 1782. Joel’s work required frequent absences, and Ruth’s extramarital amours were always with her husband’s encouragement. Fulton
We know intimate details of the relationship that evolved because Barlow, an inveterate keeper of every piece of paper and correspondence, recorded them in an easily decipherable “baby talk.”
Barlow’s fondness for
included encouraging the tender sympathies of his “precious wife.” The practical French saw nothing unusual in this. In fact, they had coined an expression to describe it: ménage à trois. Fulton
Following the successful operation of the North River steamboat in 1807, recounted in last week’s article,
Fulton decided to rebuild his vessel at Red Hook on the . He arrived at the nearby Hudson Livingston estate after New Year's.
A Surprise Marriage
To the surprise of friends and relatives, Harriet Livingston, the Chancellor's young cousin, and Robert Fulton were married on January 7, 1808. No evidence exists to show how he found time to court Harriet. Their honeymoon was shared with the rebuilding of his steamboat.
The Barlows were back in the
U.S. by then and living near , the new national capital. Letters written to them by Washington indicate that he was anxious for the two families to meet and know one another. Fulton
After a weeklong journey by stagecoach, the
Fultons reached in July and stayed with the Barlows until the next February. It quickly became apparent to Harriet Fulton that she was an intruder on an already established pattern of living. Washington
She was pregnant and in October gave birth to a son.
named the baby Robert Barlow Fulton and called him Barlow. Pregnant or not, Harriet had no intention of taking part in the unconventional marital relationship her husband had in mind--in effect, a ménage à quatre. Fulton
Harriet soon became discontented with the "pin money" her husband doled out. He had originally intended to give her a share of the profits from the new catamaran ferry running between
Manhattan and , but his partner, Livingston, vetoed that arrangement. Jersey City
Harriet had every reason to be unhappy. Women’s rights were virtually nonexistent in the early 19th century. A married woman essentially was her husband's property.
Her body was legally regarded as owned by him. She could not have a bank account, invest money, sign a contract, carry life insurance, or own or inherit property independently of her husband.
Without property, she could not take vote or take part in politics as a candidate. In the event of the death of her husband, she could not become the legal guardian of her children.
Joel Barlow died in
of fatigue and fever in 1812 futilely trying to obtain payment from Napoleon for American ships illegally seized by the French. Following his defeat at Poland Moscow, the Emperor had abandoned his army and was already back in . Robert R. Livingston, who was important to the legal actions brought to protect the monopoly, suffered a fatal stroke in 1813. Paris
The two deaths devastated
. He died of pneumonia in Fulton on Thursday, Feb. 23, 1815. He had been soaked to the skin a few days before trying to cross the ice-clogged New York City Hudson after inspecting the giant steam-powered frigate being built for the Navy in . Jersey City
A Hero's FuneralNewspapers announced his death the next day in obituaries bordered by thick black lines. He left a grieving young widow and their four children, the eldest only six years old.
His funeral on Saturday afternoon resembled the burial of a national hero. Pallbearers carried his simple mahogany coffin down the steps of his handsome mansion across from what is now Battery Park. To the west, the setting sun's rosy glow over the
Jersey salt marshes provided a colorful backdrop for the solemn occasion.
Battery, a single cannon boomed at one-minute intervals. The cortège, led by officials of the federal, state and city governments, moved slowly up Broadway to . After a brief service, Trinity Church Fulton's body was interred in the Livingston family vault.
In November of the following year,
’s widow married a smooth-talking, avaricious Briton named Charles Dale. If Harriet's rapid remarriage suggests unusual casualness toward her husband's death, Ruth Barlow's reaction reveals genuine affection. Fulton
Responding to news of
's passing, she wrote to the executor of his estate, "Most feelingly my heart reciprocates every sentiment of sorrow and deep regret you express . . . . Except for the family no one can so sensibly feel this loss as myself . . . .I must dismiss this mournful subject, it affects me too much my tears blot my paper." Fulton
Later, in a letter to a friend, she wrote that she could “recall the image of
I wish to be ever present to my still bleeding heart.” With neither Barlow nor Fulton to comfort her, Ruth Barlow died in 1818. Fulton
In 1820, the Dales mortgaged her country property. Saddling a widowed Livingston sister-in-law with Harriet's four children, the Dales headed for
. The Dales were back in England by 1825. Harriet died the following year and was buried in a lonely grave in the cemetery of the Claverack Dutch Reformed Church in upstate America . New York
In 1816, a year after his death, Fulton Street was created to honor him by widening two existing streets. Specializing in fish, the Fulton Market opened in 1822 and remained at its original location until 2005, when it moved to Hunts Point in the
Bronx. Other honors were scant.
In 1901, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers erected a squat stone column and small bronze plaque at the south edge of Trinity churchyard. Visitors seeking
Fulton’s gravesite often make the mistake of thinking is buried beneath this rather unattractive memorial. Fulton
A Robert Fulton Monument Association was created in
in 1906. With Cornelius Vanderbilt as president and Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) as vice-president, the association planned to erect a monument on Riverside Drive at 110th Street, overlooking the river of his history-making voyage. Overshadowed by preparations for the 1909 celebration that would honor both Fulton and Hudson, the New York monument was never built. Fulton
Nearly 200 years after his death, no headstone marks Robert Fulton’s grave.
, of course, needs no monument. At the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution, the steamboat and the steamship expanded international commerce to unimaginable heights. Steam-powered vessels, as part of vast naval fleets bristling with arms and armor, became participants in epic naval battles in two catastrophic wars. They remain awesome projections of national power to this very day. Fulton
Monday, March 12, 2012
The Short, Tragic Life of Robert Fulton, 1: The North River Steamboat
LOWER HUSON VALLEY
Monday, August 17, 1807, dawned hot and humid in the bustling little city at the lower tip of
. It promised to be another sweltering dog day for which the lower Manhattan Island is famous in summer. Hudson Valley
Gentlemen uncomfortable in their swallow-tailed coats and their ladies twirling pastel parasols to protect them from the sun made their way by carriage or brougham two miles north to the village called
Their destination was the Christopher Street pier jutting into the
Hudson River, in an area still largely given over to fields and orchards. Nearby loomed the massive walls of Newgate, the new state prison at the foot of Amos Street (now West Tenth Street).
The occasion was the demonstration of inventor Robert Fulton’s new--and as yet unnamed--steamboat. Only the day before the vessel had been moved to the
Hudson from a shipyard at Corlear’s Hook on the East River, causing excited comment from strollers near the Battery. Word of the vessel’s impending maiden voyage up the the next day spread rapidly through the city. Hudson
An Odd-looking Craft
Riding gently on the
swells alongside the pier was an ungainly 79-ton cigar-shaped wooden boat measuring 142 feet long and a ridiculously narrow 14 feet wide. With one tall mast and an awkward 15-foot smokestack extending high in the air, the flat-bottomed, straight-sided ship riding low in the water was a far cry from the sleek sailing sloops that busily plied Hudson ’s vast harbor. New York
Powering this unusual craft was a large upright single-cylinder engine with an assortment of cogs, rods and wheels to drive two giant wooden paddlewheels, 15-feet in diameter. The latter lacked protective housings, making any passengers standing near them on deck likely to be doused with water. A supply of coal,
's fuel of choice, was stored below deck, assuring 192 hours of running time. Fulton
Robert Fulton had spent more than twenty years in
England and , working first as a portrait painter and then as an inventor, unsuccessfully peddling inventions designed to sink ships with underwater mines. France
Derisively called “
’s Folly” as it was being built, the vessel owed much to British craftsmen who had flocked to the vibrant former colony. Charles Brownne, a skilled Fulton shipwright, built its hull. Apparently, he avoided British restrictions on the emigration of skilled workers by changing the spelling of his given name, Brown. London
Scottish millwright Robert McQueen built the ironwork of the paddle mechanism to
’s design. The boiler Fulton Fulton had ordered from England was never shipped, so the vessel’s boiler was made by a local coppersmith named . The British firm of Boulton and Watt built the 24-horsepower engine to Marshall 's specifications. Fulton
An initial unsuccessful attempt to get the new-fangled steamboat under way at about one o'clock drew taunts and smirking remarks from spectators on the shore. The few passengers stood ill at ease on the vessel’s open deck. Undaunted,
and his British-born engineer, George Jackson, tinkered with the engine. Finally, Davis Hunt, the vessel’s captain, was given the signal to begin the voyage. Fulton
Its engine hissing steam and its ungainly smokestack belching black smoke and sparks, Fulton’s North River Steamboat moved into the river and headed north past Spuyten Duyvil and Westchester. At a speed of about four miles an hour, the slim vessel cut smoothly through the water, steadily overtaking and passing sloops and schooners beating their way northwards under full sail.
Livingston, a lawyer and
’s partner, bankrolled the steamboat venture. Fearful of competition, he obtained a monopoly on steamboat travel on the Fulton Hudson from the legislature. The Chancellor would join New York on board for the final 40-mile leg of the journey to the state capital. Fulton
Despite the hoopla about the first Albany-bound voyage of his steamboat,
left no written record of the passengers, nor was there any local press coverage. Later accounts place eminent New Yorker and Fulton senator Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill, aboard. Mitchill was chairman of the senate defense committee. Representing the Chancellor were his younger brother and a distant cousin, both named John Livingston. U.S.
Arrival at Clermont
Under a full moon,
Fulton's steamboat chugged north through the night and reached the Livingston estate early in the afternoon of the next day. It had covered the distance at an average speed of 4-1/2 miles per hour. Livingston came aboard for the remainder of the journey to the state capital.
Albany the following day, decided to turn the experimental voyage into a commercial venture and posted a sign on his steamboat’s railing announcing a return fare of seven dollars, more than twice what sailing sloops were charging. So great was the locals’ fear of a boiler explosion, only two French travelers booked passage on the return trip. Fulton
Although widely described as its inventor, Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat. He was, however, the first to successfully operate a steamboat commercially in regular passenger service.
A Steamboat Business Is Born
New York by Friday, August 21 with the successful round-trip voyage behind him, Fulton immediately registered his vessel officially at the office as the North River Steamboat--the only name by which it was known during its existence. port of New York
North River was the more common name for the
Hudson River during the Dutch colonial period of the 17th century. The practical Dutch called the Delaware, the south boundary of New Netherland, the South River. Near the colony’s northern boundary, was the North River, or . Hudson
In his correspondence,
Fulton referred to the river as the North River and the Hudson River, but in his advertisements, as in his registration of the craft, he called it the North River Steamboat. Confusion over the name of Fulton’s vessel began with biographer Cadwallader Colden, whose 1817 Life of Robert Fulton mistakenly called it the Clermont. This error, repeated by subsequent biographers and writers, continues to this day.
(near the site at which the
Accidents deliberately caused by jealous sloop captains were a constant worry. Blaming these on Capt. Hunt’s carelessness,
Fulton replaced him with Andrew Brinck of Esopus ( ). Hunt was later said to have been bribed by sloop captains. Kingston
“You must insist on each one doing his duty or turn him on shore and another put in his place,”
told Brinck. But Brinck turned out to be no more satisfactory than Hunt, and within a few weeks his place was taken by Samuel Wiswall of Fulton , who proved to be faithful and energetic. Hudson
Fulton continued to complain to partner Livingston, “Our Hands are too numerous, their Wages too high, our fuel more than half too dear and the quantity may be economized.”
Service continued until November 19, ending with the freezing of the
Hudson south of . The following April, Livingston induced the Albany New York legislature to extend the time period of the partnership’s monopoly on the . Hudson
During the winter,
Fulton moved the North River to Red Hook, a protected cove south of the Clermont estate, where he set up a workshop and spent much of his time improving the vessel. He built a new hull, making it longer and wider, installed a new deck and windows, and created cabins holding 54 berths. The paddle wheels were enclosed in wooden housings to prevent them from splashing water on the deck. Coal was abandoned in favor of less expensive and more easily available resinous pine logs.
By the end of the 1808 sailing season, the two partners had cleared a profit of $16,000. They contracted with boat builder Charles Brownne for another steamboat, the fancifully named Car of
Neptune. Three years would elapse before Fulton had another steamboat built for Hudson River service. At 331 tons--more than four times the displacement of the original North River--the 170-foot-long Paragon was huge, a veritable floating palace.
An illustrated account of the Paragon published in the new monthly magazine Port Folio described a dining room capable of serving dinner on fine china for 150 passengers and 104 berths “so wide as to conveniently admit two persons, when the boat is crowded.”
added, almost with a wink, “and it is agreeable to the parties.” Fulton
Two smaller boats also were built, the 81-foot Firefly, which served the
New York to Poughkeepsie run and the Jersey, an ingenious 78-foot catamaran ferry running between Manhattan and . The new steamboat mogul was on his way. Jersey City
Monday, March 05, 2012
The Golden Age of Hudson Valley Brickmaking, 2: The Brickmaking Process
As a business venture, brickmaking was financially extremely risky. Partnerships were formed easily and dissolved quickly. Fortunes were made and lost.
Brickmaking was also a seasonal business that shut down for the winter when the ground became frozen. Wages were low, and the physical labor involved was arduous.
Many brickyard workers found winter employment cutting ice in the area’s many lakes and ponds, and hauling it to ice houses for storage and later use.
A brickyard was labor intensive, and dependent on immigrants and itinerants for its workers. Owners of brickyards supplied housing to many of their laborers.
So isolated was the brickmaking community on Croton Point that the Underhill brickyard built a school for the children of its brickyard workers.
Clay and sand banks could suddenly peter out. Warm, dry weather was necessary for the initial drying of bricks--but the weather could be unpredictable and capricious.
Overproduction in this highly competitive industry was common. The price of bricks was dictated by the state of the economy, the amount of new construction and the annual production of bricks.
Extracting the Clay
Bricks were made by what was called the "soft mud process." Early brickmakers laboriously dug the clay for bricks by hand. (The steam shovel was not invented until 1879.) Fortune smiled on any brickyard whose clay deposit was overlain by sand, another necessary brick ingredient.
Clay and sand were transported in wheelbarrows or horse-drawn carts to the tempering pit and mixed with water. The mixture was then kneaded by being trod upon by oxen until it reached the proper consistency. Later, tempering was done in horse-driven or steam-powered pug mills.
To achieve more thorough burning of the heavy
Hudson River clays, powdered anthracite coal dust (called "culm") was added. This also saved fuel by reducing the burning time.
After being properly tempered, the clay mixture was removed from the pit or pug mill and delivered to the molding table.
Molding the Bricks
The assistant brick molder, also called a "clot molder," would prepare a lump of clay and pass it to the brick molder. The latter, the key worker in the brickmaking process, was the star of the team. Highly skilled, the brick molder would take the clay and "dash" it into the already-sanded mold, making sure that the corners were filled.
Any excess clay mixture was removed from the top of the mold with a "strike"--a flat board kept soaking in water--and reused.
Molds could make one, two, four or six bricks at a time. Smaller capacity molds had the advantage that a child could carry them. Child labor was common in brickyards.
Hardwoods--cherry, beech or maple--were used in making the open-topped rectangular molds that were often reinforced with iron straps to prevent excessive wear.
The next worker in the team would take the mold from the molding table and move it by flatbed wheelbarrow to a leveled and carefully swept "hacking" (drying) area.
Bricks slid easily from molds because their sides had been coated with fine sand. The empty molds were then returned to the molding table to be refilled.
Drying the Bricks
At the roofed-over hacking area, the bricks were laid out to dry. After two days, they were turned over. At this stage, rough handling could easily damage a brick.
While the bricks were still moist, young boys used special tools called "edgers" to straighten the edges of the bricks. After four days of drying in warm weather, the bricks were sufficiently hard to allow them to be stood on one side with a finger's width between them to continue drying. After another two weeks of drying, the bricks were ready to be moved to the kiln shed.
Building and Firing the Kiln
A temporary kiln was constructed of "green" (raw) bricks, stacked 54 bricks high, with "arches"--apertures in which fuel was placed--at the base. Wood was used until the supply of local trees was exhausted, and then coal was substituted. Several hundred thousand to a million bricks could make up a kiln.
Even with the drying that had taken place, the unburned bricks still contained about 15 percent water, so fires were kept low at first to complete the drying process. Too much heat applied too soon could cause bricks to explode.
Steam would issue from the top of the kiln. Old-time brickmakers called this "water smoke." After the water had been driven off and it was safe to increase the heat, the temperature of the kiln was raised slowly until it reached 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
It took a knowledgeable and experienced brickmaker to know when the fire holes should be bricked over and the heat allowed to dissipate slowly. Burning the bricks took about a week. Another week was needed to allow them to cool before the kiln could be taken apart.
Sorting the Bricks
Bricks closest to the fires received an unwanted glaze deposited on their surfaces from wood ash or vaporized sand that dropped in the fires and was vaporized. Such bricks could still be sold for use in the interior courses of walls.
Bricks that were overburned or cracked or warped were designated as "lammies" or "clinkers" and sold for use in garden walls or footpaths.
Bricks making up the outer walls of the kiln were always less properly cured. Called "light-hards," these were put aside to be used to cover the outer walls of the next kiln and then daubed with mud to seal it.
Marketable bricks were transported to docks at the river's edge. In the early days they were loaded on sloops, but barges holding from 300,000 to 500,000 bricks later supplanted sloops for the trip to
’s docks. Twelfth Avenue and 52nd Street became the site of an informal brick market, a gathering place for the city's building materials dealers. New York City
Decline and Fall
By the turn of the 20th century, some 120 brickyards, employing between eight and ten thousand workers, were producing over a billion bricks a year in the
--more than any other part of the world. Hudson Valley
A quarter-century later most of the brickyards in Westchester and
counties closed, having depleted the banks of clay and sand along the river. Moreover, these brickyards had not modernized or mechanized their brickmaking. Except for machines to mix the clay and pack the molds, much of the work had still involved manual labor. Rockland
Brickyards upriver around Beacon,
Newburgh and managed to hang on longer, thanks to abundant reserves of clay and the introduction of machine methods. Despite modernization, many of these brickyards succumbed during the Depression, and only a few survived the Second World War. Kingston
Other brickmaking methods had supplanted the soft mud process. A steam-driven machine that forced a stiffer mixture through a rectangular aperture could make 100,000 bricks a day. The extruded column was then cut into bricks by a wire cutter similar to a hard-boiled egg slicer. Tunnel-type dryers and kilns were also introduced.
After the building boom that followed the war, builders in the 1960's decided that
brick was too porous. The cost of added ingredients to overcome the porosity problem made it impossible for Hudson Valley brickmakers to compete. Hudson Valley
Today, shale is the preferred raw material, and most of the country's bricks come from the South and the
Midwest. Only one brickyard making molded bricks survived in the Hudson Valley--the Powell & Minnock Brick Works at Coeymans, about a dozen miles south of Albany. This company ceased operations in 2001.
The visitor to the sites of previous riverside brickmaking operations between Croton and
Peekskill will find little to show that this chapter in Westchester’s industrial history was once written here. The harsh outlines of gouged-out clay and sand pits have softened and merged with the landscape. Never intended to be permanent, brickyard buildings have long since disappeared. A diligent searcher may scuff up a few discarded imperfect bricks. With luck, their brands may be identifiable.
Tangible proof of the area's prodigality with its natural resources, however, can be found miles to the south in
. From humble tenements and millionaires' mansions to soaring skyscrapers, thousands of sturdy brick buildings still stand, their bricks mute testimony to the golden age of brickmaking in the New York City . Hudson Valley