Hebron Brick Company: Technology Meets Tradition in North Dakota


As with so much else in North Dakota, the wind decides which side of the Hebron Brick Factory you want to walk along.

When the wind comes from the south, its heat and power meet the rolling hills west of the state capitol, Bismarck. That's its first interruption after building momentum over thousands of miles of flat plains. As the wind mixes with the heat of the enormous kiln at the factory's heart, temperatures and sometimes tempers begin to rise near the Grinding Plant.

When the wind comes pushing insistently from the Canadian north, it whips and whirls around the 60,000 tons of tinted clay that sit in tall piles next to the factory. Ash builds up on clothes and cars and leaves a mineral heaviness in the mouth that tastes exactly like you somehow already know dirt tastes.

But whatever way the wind blows at the Hebron Brick Factory, you'll undoubtedly hear, feel, taste and smell the organic process that goes into making bricks -- from mining the clay to fashioning it into shapes that will protect, decorate and insulate.

Brick making is a practice that's almost as old as humankind, and it's almost instinctual to pick bricks up to get to know them. Rough or smooth. Dark or light. Thin or heavy. Held in the hand, they prompt a memory of the way bricks can be warm or cold, how they clink like teacups when knocked together, and how they are strong enough to hold up against a storm, but delicate enough to shatter when mishandled.

Established in 1904, Hebron Brick is a relatively recent entry in the human history of brick making. But Hebron has anchored North Dakota long enough to make it a staple of the state's identity. The local cab driver, the hotel receptionist, the pilot that flew you to the northern center of an enormous America all know Hebron Brick and know it has been there a long time.