The industry in which Boral chose to invest was bricks, and the company acquired Merry Companies in 1980. The operations were based in Augusta, Georgia, in the heart of the Deep South. Boral's chief corporate strategist, Brian Saunders, who had toured the United States with Neal researching companies, remembers the first Merry Bricks board meeting he attended. It was standard practice to say prayers before opening the business proceedings. He said, 'They were prayers right to the point - "Please Lord help us meet our forecast budget" - and the like. It was very different to the laid-back attitude we encountered in California.'

     
  Merry Companies History

Merry Brothers Brick and Tile Co. first rented a brickyard in 1899. Ernest and Walter Merry left their Georgia farm that year bringing mules, a wagon and a load of cordwood. They joined forces with Arthur Merry, who had borrowed $1500 against his life insurance policy.

A friendly contractor kept the fledgling business from going under by purchasing the first kiln of bricks. In 1903 the Merry brothers bought land of their own on the outskirts of Augusta and constructed their first production facility. At about the same time Arthur and Ernest Merry bought out Walter Merry, who chose to pursue other interests.

The company prospered until the Great Depression when, ironically, Merry Brothers made one of its most progressive steps. Like most companies, Merry Brothers found itself with a great deal of slack time. The brothers decided to make the most of the situation and set about becoming `efficiency experts' in all aspects of their business. They greatly increased the quality of their products and plant productivity grew by 40 per cent without any increase in costs, personnel or equipment.

In 1940 the Merry brothers embarked on another development - Merry Shipping Co. However, World War II delayed this venture for several years. After the war Merry Shipping bought two barges and a tug and began plying the Savannah River between Augusta and Savannah, where the company bought waterfront property and built a terminal.


 

Merry Bricks Inc. supplied the American Embassy in Moscow with four million bricks (1981 annual report).
 
    An aerial view of Merry Bricks Plant 2 in the 1950s.  
 
The postwar boom brought prosperity and industrial expansion to the USA, and Augusta was no exception. Merry Shipping played a vital role in this growth, giving local industry an additional mode of transport for raw materials and finished products.

In 1959 the second generation of the Merry management decided to offer stock to the public, extending ownership outside the family for the first time; sales had exceeded production.

In September 1966 Merry embarked on a diversification campaign, purchasing a concrete block operation. In 1967 Merry Land and Investment Co. was set up as a wholly owned subsidiary to handle the use and development of company owned land that was not needed for the brick operations.

In 1968 stockholders approved a corporate name change to Merry Companies Inc., considering that this expressed the company's role of being a diversified supplier of space enclosure materials to the building industry.

The 1970s saw a period of expansion for Merry Companies, with Guignard Brick Works, Georgia-Carolina Brick and Tile Company and Dorchester Brickworks becoming separate divisions of the larger company.

Guignard and Georgia-Carolina Brick and Tile Company

Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States and the city of Columbia was just a village when James Guignard opened his brickyard high on a bluff overlooking the Congaree River in 1803. As surveyor- general of South Carolina from 1799 to 1808 his father John Guignard had surveyed Columbia's original streets.

Guignard Brick Works is the oldest brick company in the United States. It operated continuously, privately or commercially, for more than 180 years except for two brief periods: from 1865 to 1866 just after the Civil War, and during World War I, when lack of coal forced the plant to shut down.

Twenty years after Sherman's march through Columbia, Gabriel Guignard settled at Still Hopes, the family plantation on the Congaree River and reopened the business that had been founded by his great-grandfather.

The company, owned by the family, operated until 1955. In 1974 Guignard moved to new headquarters at Lexington, South Carolina. In October 1976 Guignard Brick Works management reached an agreement with Merry Companies Inc. that Merry would lease the Guignard Brick Works and other related assets.

The Georgia-Carolina Brick and Tile Company, which Merry acquired in the 1970s, was situated close to the Savannah River, where it was vulnerable to the springtime flooding which occurred once every few years.

Eugene Long, who in 1918 joined that company as a fifteen-year-old stenographer recalled John Greenwald, a manager in the mid-1920s. Greenwald was manager of Georgia-Carolina Brick's Plant Number Four in 1929 during a particularly bad flood. Though Greenwald was quite adept at brickmaking, his command of the English language wasn't quite as good; he had been born in Germany. Describing the damage at Plant Number Four, Long recalls him saying, 'My nice fine new office, mit the iron safe together vent down in the middle of the river out!'. During the peak of the flood the water reached the top of the kilns and Greenwald described it thus: 'The vater came so soonly up, my men dumb the trees and almost perished to death!' Plant Number Four, though considerably damaged, eventually resumed operations.

During the 1970s Merry Bricks also developed a process for mixing sawdust and clay to cut the weight of its bricks by 25 per cent. By 1979 the lightweight bricks made up 90 per cent of total production. The benefits of this development were substantial; it allowed the company to reduce shipping costs by 40 per cent and Merry went from being a major brick manufacturer in south-eastern USA to a national manufacturer and distributor.

The company also found another money-saving use for sawdust - a timber industry waste product - using it to fuel its brickmaking ovens. By 1979 three of Merry's six brick plants had been converted from fuel oil or natural gas to sawdust power.

In 1981 Merry Bricks expanded into Maryland, purchasing the Baltimore Brick Company established in 1827 when a group of enterprising gentlemen in a local tavern recognised that city's growing demand for building materials. This enterprise was known as Baltimore Brick Manufacturing and Export Company.

At the end of the nineteenth century, brick manufacturers were scattered throughout the city. Twenty-two of these firms grouped together and decided to centralise their operations; among them was Baltimore Brick Manufacturing and Export. This merger was incorporated as the Baltimore Brick Company in 1887.

At the turn of the century the Baltimore Brick Company owned 200 mules, employed in carting 500 bricks per load. At the time the average cost was US$8.00 per 1000 bricks. Over the years Baltimore Brick closed its plants throughout the city and it now operates from a location in Maryland.
 


The cover of Merry Companies Inc. 1968 annual report.
 
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