Murphysboro Paving Brick Company and the Panama Canal

Construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the "Brickyard"

East St. Louis building materials dealer William Hill partnered with Murphysboro plumber Henry Jenkins in 1909 to form the Murphysboro Paving Brick Company, which produced up to a quarter-million bricks daily in more than twenty kilns before shutting down in the 1930s during the Great Depression. 

Bricks produced at the plant paved streets in many Southern Illinois towns and around the nation. In 1925, the plant sold thirty-six thousand paving bricks to Orlando, Florida, in the largest contract of its kind ever awarded at that time. Contracts also included Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Lincoln Highway. 

Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal under construction
Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal under construction, circa 1913

Over a number of years beginning in 1915, the U.S. government purchased five million bricks from the company for paving in the Panama Canal Zone. The bricks were shipped to New Orleans on Illinois Central Railroad cars and then by boat to the Canal Zone. 

Business slowed during the Great Depression as states began to prohibit imported building materials and profits continued to decline as new paving methods were developed. The company began focusing on construction bricks in a final effort to remain solvent but soon closed in an increasingly competitive market.

Modern Times
Panama Canal Bricks