The oldest shaped bricks found date back to 7,500 B.C, They have been found in Çayönü, a place located in the upper Tigris area in south east Anatolia close to Diyarbakir. Other more recent findings, dated between 7,000 and 6,395 B.C., come from Jericho and Catal Hüyük. From archaeological evidence, the invention of the fired brick (as opposed to the considerably earlier sun-dried mud brick) is believed to have arisen in about the third millennium BC in the Middle East. Being much more resistant to cold and moist weather conditions, brick enabled the construction of permanent buildings in regions where the harsher climate precluded the use of mud bricks.
By 1200AD brick making was to be found across Europe and Asia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In the Near East and India, bricks have been in use for more than five thousand years. The plain of the Tigris-Euphrates lacks rocks and trees. Sumerian structures were thus built of plano-convex mudbricks, not fixed with mortar or with cement. As plano-convex bricks (being rounded) are somewhat unstable in behaviour, Sumerian bricklayers would lay a row of bricks perpendicular to the rest every few rows. They would fill the gaps with bitumen, straw, marsh reeds, and weeds.
The Ancient Egyptians and the Indus Valley Civilization also used mudbrick extensively, as can be seen in the ruins of Buhen, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, for example. In the Indus Valley Civilization all bricks corresponded to sizes in a perfect ratio of 4:2:1. The ratio for brick dimensions 4:2:1 is today considered optimal for effective bonding.
In Sumerian times offerings of food and drink were presented to "the brick god," who was "represented in the ritual by the first brick." More recently, mortar for the foundations of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was mixed with "a broth of barley and bark of elm" and sacred relics, accompanied by prayers, placed between every 12 bricks.
The Romans made use of fired bricks, and the Roman legions, which operated mobile kilns, introduced bricks to many parts of the empire. Roman bricks are often stamped with the mark of the legion that supervised its production. The use of bricks in Southern and Western Germany, for example, can be traced back to traditions already described by the Roman architect Vitruvius.
In the 12th century, bricks from Northern Italy were re-introduced to Northern Germany, where an independent tradition evolved. It culminated in the so-called brick Gothic, a reduced style of Gothic architecture that flourished in Northern Europe, especially in the regions around the Baltic Sea which are without natural rock resources. Brick Gothic buildings, which are built almost exclusively of bricks, are to be found in Denmark, Germany, Poland and Russia.
During the Renaissance and the Baroque, visible brick walls were unpopular and the brickwork was often covered with plaster. It was only during the mid-18th century that visible brick walls regained some degree of popularity, as illustrated by the Dutch Quarter of Potsdam, for example.
The transport in bulk of building materials such as bricks over long distances was rare before the age of canals, railways, roads and heavy goods vehicles. Before this time bricks were generally made as close as possible to their point of intended use. It has been estimated that in England in the eighteenth century carrying bricks by horse and cart for ten miles over the poor roads then existing could more than double their price.
Bricks were often used, even in areas where stone was available, for reasons of speed and economy. The buildings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain were largely constructed of brick and timber due to the unprecedented demand created. Again, during the building boom of the nineteenth century in the eastern seaboard cities of Boston and New York, for example, locally made bricks were often used in construction in preference to the brownstones of New Jersey and Connecticut for these reasons.
The trend of building upwards for offices that emerged towards the end of the 19th century displaced brick in favor of cast and wrought iron and later steel and concrete. Some early 'skyscrapers' were made in masonry, and demonstrated the limitations of the material - for example, the Monadnock Building in Chicago (opened in 1896) is masonry and just sixteen stories high, the ground walls are almost 1.8 meters thick, clearly building any higher would lead to excessive loss of internal floor space on the lower floors. Brick was revived for high structures in the 1950s following work by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Building Research Establishment in Watford, UK. This method produced eighteen story structures with bearing walls no thicker than a single brick (150-225 mm). This potential has not been fully developed because of the ease and speed in building with other materials, in the late-20th century brick was confined to low- or medium-rise structures or as a thin decorative cladding over concrete-and-steel buildings or for internal non-loadbearing walls.