George Mayer was a self-made man. He was born in Rhineland, Missouri in 1915. He was fascinated with airplanes, and in the freewheeling days before FAA regulation, he was able to teach himself to fly. He was good at it, too, good enough to be hired as an instructor in 1941 at the Spartan School of Aviation. Mayer moved to Miami and would soon make a huge impact on not only the business community, but in the looks of structures in Miami and all over the US.
As Mayer would fly around, he was amazed at the mountains of chat all over Ottawa county. What potential for material there!
When the US entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Pacific theater.
In 1949, Mayer opened up a paint and wallpaper store in Miami. One day, while mixing paint, he had an epiphany: wouldn’t a custom colored building stone be quite a popular item? He set up some molds in his garage and started experimenting.
His first thought was towards the discarded chat left over from the mining industry. Virtually unlimited, and almost free. But it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t make strong enough blocks with the chat. The lead it contained would fortunately never be an issue with his new product.
You see, Mayer knew the biggest issue with manufactured stone: porosity. If water could get inside it and freeze, it would break. So Mayer strove for a ridiculously high 5,000 PSI product which would be impervious to water. And they were! Mayer’s quality control include a cycle test, where the stones were soaked in water for 24 hours, then frozen at -12 Fahrenheit for 24 hours, then thawed for 24 hours. This cycle continued for nine months.
If a stone could survive that, mere weather conditions would be a snap to overcome. Sure enough, not even a surface deterioration could be found by independent laboratories.
He soon rented a building on the Truck Route to refine his concept. By 1955, Mayer had perfected his formula, had purchased a manufacturing site between the curves north of town, and was offering Miami Stone for sale. One of the first buildings in Miami to use it was the new dental clinic on 216 W Central. The first News-Record ad placed by Miami Stone in December, 1955 paid tribute to the new office.
Besides being an inexpensive, durable, attractive building material, it had even more cachet: it looked Mid-Century Modern, the building style that was just beginning to take off across the country. Thus, Miami Stone was an instant success.
To say that Miami Stone was a brilliant design would be quite an understatement. Besides being as durable as can be imagined, its modular design leads to imaginative use. The blocks ranged in size from one to four and a half inches thick (eventually they maxed out at 3 1/2″). The sizes jumped by 1/2 inch, so use a 1/2″ mortar joint and you can create patterns with different block thicknesses.
But Mayer didn’t stop there. He marketed Miami Stone as a franchise, and soon had locations all over the US making his stones.
By 1968, the MCM look was starting to slow down, and so was demand for the sleek building blocks. Unfazed, Mayer created another stone: the Rus-Tique Brik.
It looked like a brick, but was actually more durable, being manufactured to the same standards as Miami Stone. Mayer’s market from the get-go was franchises for this product. An entrepreneur could have a Rus-Tique facility up and running for $500,000. That’s 1/10 the cost of a clay brickmaking facility!
The response to Rus-Tique was even greater, and soon facilities were open in Europe and Australia.
In 1975, Mayer invented the Queen Air, a vented fireplace that kept the heat in the room, instead of sending it up the chimney. In 1979, he formed George Mayer Manufacturing Inc. to begin manufacturing them. The Queen Air fireplace was a success, but not as big a success as the fireplace insert which could turn any fireplace into an efficient source of house heat. The insert was a monster hit, spawning many copycats, but most folks insisted on the original Queen Air.
By 1993, Mayer was looking to retire. He sold his businesses to outside interests. Sadly, they lacked his genius. Within five years, Miami Stone and Queen Air had vanished, and most Rustique franchises as well. But some have held on, and Mayer’s legacy continues.
His legacy also continues in dozens of structures all over Miami, and thousands more across the nation, which feature Miami Stone. And as the Mid Century Modern look has proven to be timeless, people are proudly leaving their 50-year-old and older Miami Stone installations right where they are.
George Mayer, who passed in 1998, would be happy, I’m sure.