George Mayer and Miami Stone

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

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.

Miami News-Record article on George mayer and Miami Stone, 1955

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.

Miami Stone pays homage to one of its first clients, Dr. Leon Lewis’s new office at 216 W Central. December 14, 1955

216 W Central in 2016, the Miami Stone is still in perfect shape

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.

Miami Stone yearbook ad, 1963

Miami Stone plant worker, date unknown

Miami Stone flyer, early 60’s

Miami Stone flyer, interior. Click to enlarge.

Miami Stone flyer, back cover

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!

Rustique brick, currently available from a company in Slovakia

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.

Miami Stone’s longtime location, seen in the present day

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.

18 thoughts on “George Mayer and Miami Stone

  1. We have a house made of the gray Miami Stone. It was built in 1972. We were needing some Miami stone. Is anyone making this anywhere anymore?

    1. I purchased a Queen Air fireplace in 1990, and burned a million cords thru it, keeping the entire house warm! Sure wish I could find one now! Currently building a new house and need another one!

  2. My house in Ardmore is made of a combo of shades of tan with a tinge of orange. A retaining wall was made out of them too. The top bricks did degrade some so they weren’t as bullet-proof as the article mentions. Maybe UV damaged them. Some simply crumbled. I’m now in the process of replacing the retaining walls. Now i know the bricks are rare i’ll be sure to hold onto them. Most clean up rather well with deft use of an air chisel.
    Midwest Block and Brick in Tulsa make some really nice products if you’re searching for alternatives. I’m going to use their blocks for my retaining walls.

  3. My home in Speedway, Indiana is built with Miami Stone. The original owner moved from Dayton, Ohio in the early sixties and designed the house. I was never sure what the brick was called until recently excavating for a new shed, I dug up a few pieces and saw Miami Stone on the back. Each brick is about 24” x 3” and it looks great on my house and was also used on a fireplace. Thanks very much for your informative post

  4. I am in search of white Miami stone brick like the bricks in one of the pictures on your page. Do
    You know of anyone in the year 2020 that has them or produce them?

  5. In 1978 I purchased a Queen Air fireplace heat exchanger fire place. In January of 2021 I replaced the blower motors and motor controller. After a good cleaning we built another fire in it. I heat 2100 sq ft above ground and 1100 sq ft basement. I have been pleased with this unit for over 42 years. Equipped with an arm to hold a pot above the fire we have also cooked on the unit also. When natural gas was $13.00 per MCF we did not use our gas furnace for a whole winter. As I type this I am keeping warm with my “mature” queen air fireplace heat exchanger.
    David Houpt
    New Franklin, Ohio 44216 (NE OHIO)

  6. David, could you share information about the replacement motors you used? We have the QA-36 model installed in our home in 1981. The blower motors are noisy and I’ve been searching for replacements without much luck finding them.

  7. I put a 2 channel thermometer on my Queen Air, measured inlet air and discharge air temperatures. With knowing delta T I could compute BTU gain using a formula. I then made a chart for the three blower speeds. On the low speed I was able to have over 84,000 BTU of heat from the Queen Air. That is more than my gas furnace puts out. With energy costs on the rise, I am again happy to have put this unit in 42 years ago.

  8. Hi David.
    So was it most efficient at the lower speed vs higher? I’ve got an old Ashley – house built in the 60’s. It’s capable of running us out of our rather large split level. It’s gotten so hot that the Miami stone has cracked on the outside. So i’ve learned to keep it tamped down

  9. I purchased a house two years ago that has a Queen Air fireplace. I don’t have any information on how to operate it. I figured out the blower speed control and thermostat connected to the system, but I don’t think it is working as efficiently as it should. Is there an operators manual available online anywhere for the Queen Air system or any sources on the system?

  10. Hi all,

    I recently came across what I believe to be Miami Stone bricks during a pre-production scouting shoot for a work project. Would be interested in knowing where and/or who would purchase salvaged bricks from the owners of these? Any information would be very helpful. My personal email is scoop443@gmail.com. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

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