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Acme Brick Company

Acme Brick Company began operation in 1891 and is now the largest American-owned brick and masonry manufacturer in the United States, with more than $175 million in sales in 2007. Although Acme operates a number of companies that produce a variety of construction materials, bricks remain its primary product, making more than one billion of them each year. The company started production in Texas, but, in 1921, Acme opened a plant in Hot Spring County. Since then, the company has expanded its presence in Arkansas to become the major producer of bricks in the state.

George E. Bennett founded the company and served as its first president. A native of Illinois, Bennett arrived in Dallas, Texas, in 1876. Several years later, he purchased 480 acres of land in nearby Parker County and constructed a plant that went into operation in 1891. He chartered the Acme Pressed Brick Company in Alton, Illinois, in April of that year. The company experienced steady growth in its early years, and it benefited especially from the emergence of Fort Worth, Texas, as a major commercial center. In 1911, the company established its headquarters there, where the corporate offices remain.

Bennett died in 1907, but the corporation he founded survived, and despite occasional downturns, the company has become a major producer of construction-related material. In 1916, the company was re-chartered in Texas as the Acme Brick Company. Shortly thereafter, Acme began to expand beyond the Fort Worth area by opening plants in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The company enjoyed phenomenal success during the 1920s, but its business suffered badly as a result of the Great Depression, and, in 1934, Acme recorded the only annual loss in its history. The years since World War II, however, provided an era of unprecedented economic growth in the United States, and Acme took advantage of that environment to increase its brick production. In 1976, the company was the largest American brick maker in production and in sales.

Several areas in Arkansas contain abundant high-quality clay deposits, and Acme Brick extended its production operations into the state early in the twentieth century. Subsequently, Arkansas has played an integral role in Acme’s tremendous success. In 1919, the company purchased property in Perla (Hot Spring County), and the first bricks shipped from the Perla plant two years later. Acme continued to acquire assets in Arkansas over the next several years, merging with Fort Smith Brick and Tile in 1923 and purchasing Atchinson Brick Works, which became Perla Plant Number 2, in 1926. Three years after that, Acme bought Arkansas Brick and Tile, thereby gaining another plant in Perla, as well as others in Malvern (Hot Spring County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Pine Bluff plant closed in 1929. The company closed the Little Rock operation in 1930, rebuilt and reopened it in 1946, and closed it for good in 1952.

Since then, Acme has continued to increase it activities in Arkansas. The company upgraded its operations in Hot Spring County by opening the fully automated Perla East Gate Plant in 1967 and by replacing its original factory in Malvern with the new Ouachita Plant in 1980, leading that city to proclaim itself the “Brick Capital of the World.” Acme’s most recent acquisitions in Arkansas were the Wheeler Brick Company in Jonesboro (Craighead County), which it purchased in 1999, and the Eureka Brick Company in Clarksville (Johnson County), acquired in 2000. Beginning in the 1960s, the tremendous expansion of Acme Brick Company coincided with organizational changes. The company formally changed its name to First Worth Corporation in 1968, merging at that time with Louisiana Concrete Products and with the Justin Companies. The next year, John S. Justin Jr. became president of First Worth Corporation, and, in 1972, the company changed names again, this time to Justin Industries, Inc. In 1991 and 1992, Justin Industries successfully resisted a hostile take-over bid by an outside investor group. A few years later, however, Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., of Omaha, Nebraska, announced its intent to acquire the company, which it did on August 1, 2000.

As of 2008, the company operates twenty-two manufacturing plants in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, and it has sales offices located in ten states. In addition, the Acme Brick Company has moved into other areas as well. It also manufactures a variety of masonry and concrete products and all-brick fireplaces, and it is the parent company of American Tile Supply, Featherlite masonry materials, IBP Glass Block Grid System, and Texas Quarries.

For additional information:
Acme Brick. http://www.acmebrick.com (accessed February 19, 2008).

Lehr, Edwin E. Colossus in Clay: Acme Brick Company: The Story of the Largest American Owned Brickmaker. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company Publishers, 1998.

Marvin Schultz
Ouachita Technical College

Last Updated 7/9/2009

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