Skip to Main Content

Bricklayers and Stonemasons


Sun-baked clay bricks were used in constructing buildings more than 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Along with brick, stone was used in ancient Egypt in many structures. The Romans introduced masonry construction to the rest of Europe and made innovations in bricklaying, including the use of mortar and different types of bonds, or patterns. As the Roman Empire declined, so did the art of bricklaying. During the most intense period of cathedral building in Europe, from about the 10th century to the 17th century, stonemasons formed guilds in various cities and towns. These guilds functioned much as today's unions do, organizing career standards and protecting their local members' livelihoods. They had the same categories of workers: apprentices, journeymen, and masters. Not until the great fire of London in 1666 did the English start to use brick again for construction. The Chinese also were experts in bricklaying and stonemasonry, the best example of their work being the Great Wall of China, built in stages from the 3rd century B.C. to the 17th century A.D. High in the Andes of South America, Incan stoneworkers had perfected their art by the 12th century.

Although some brick houses made of imported bricks were built in Florida by the Spanish, the first bricks made by Europeans in North America were manufactured in Virginia in 1612. These bricks were handmade from clay, just as they were in ancient times. Machines were not used in the manufacturing of bricks until the mid-18th century. Changes in the content of bricks came shortly afterward. Concrete and cinder blocks were developed at this time, as was structural clay tile.

Today, attractive kinds of brick, called face brick, can be used in places where appearance is especially important. The use of face brick has helped to popularize brick in modern construction. Various colors of brick can be made by using iron oxides, iron sulfides, and other materials. By varying the bond and hue of brick, many interesting artistic effects can be achieved.

Stone is a durable, adaptable material for building purposes, although one of its drawbacks is that it may be much more difficult to cut and transport than alternative materials. Today it remains popular, particularly as a material for enhancing the appearance of important structures like hotels, public buildings, and churches. In modern construction, a covering of stone veneer about two inches thick is applied in various patterns to exterior surfaces of buildings; the veneer is anchored and supported on a steel frame.

Related Professions