W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Supplied Urban Infrastructures

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - by Harmon Jolley
W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing was on Cross Street in the West Side.  Click to enlarge.
W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing was on Cross Street in the West Side. Click to enlarge.

A reader recently sent me the following e-mail: “ I grew up in Chattanooga but live in Atlanta. My home is an apartment in a 100+ year old mattress factory that has been converted into lofts. On the top of the outer walls of my patio are clay tiles each stamped with the following: "W.S. Dickey Clay MFG. CO." I am been curious about the history of the plant that manufactured part of my home.”

I first had to determine whether “Clay” went with the rest of W.S. Dickey’s name, or described what was manufactured. Some people do have four parts of their names, but clay in this case was the material used in the company’s products.

Walter S. Dickey (1862-1931) was the founder of the clay manufacturing company which bore his name. The headquaters were in Kansas City, Missouri and the company was established in 1885.

Products included “vitrified sanitary salt glazed sewer pipe” (noted in the September 24, 1918 “Brick and Clay Record” preserved electronically on Google Books), fire bricks used in chimneys, pavers, and other clay products.

Note that the aforementioned trade journal was published during World War I. This was a time when decisions were being made about how to allocate public funds between the war effort and routine public goods.

Walter Dickey headed the sewer pipe war service committee that met in Washington, D.C. to discuss wartime needs. Proper disposal of sewage was advocated as a way to avoid disease, and thus avoid placing demands on medical personnel who were already in short supply at home.

The firm’s connection to Chattanooga came through the 1905 acquisition of the Dwight P. Montague clay pipe business. Mr. Montague had established the company in the late 1890’s in one of Chattanooga’s prime manufacturing districts on the west side along the river. He sold his clay enterprise in order to focus on other businesses such as the Roane Iron Company.

For the first half of the 1900’s, the address of W.S. Dickey was 1021 Cross Street. The streets in the west side area changed considerably in the 1960’s due to the West Side Urban Renewal project and construction of Riverside Drive.

The city directory listing for W.S. Dickey included its motto: “If it’s made of clay, it’s good. If it’s made by Dickey, it’s better.” Arthur Brading served as plant manager in Chattanooga for many years, moving up the ranks after joining the company in 1902.

Clay turns into dust, however, and that eventually happened to the W.S. Dickey plant in Chattanooga. The August 21, 1961 Chattanooga Times reported that the clay business would cease operations on October 1. There were 175 employees affected.

Combustion Engineering, a next-door neighbor of the Dickey plant for many years, acquired the property in November, 1962. The acquisition of twenty-one acres to Combustion’s holdings in Chattanooga brought the total to one hundred ten acres according to the November 14, 1962 Chattanooga Times.

There are a couple of thumbnail photographs related to W.S. Dickey on the Public Library's Web site, if you wish to search it for more information.

If you have memories of the W.S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing business in Chattanooga, or have Chattanooga products you would like researched, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Walter S. Dickey founded the clay products business.  Click to enlarge.
Walter S. Dickey founded the clay products business. Click to enlarge.

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