Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Gold Bricking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 16, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone accusing another of gold bricking.  It sounds to some as if it should be a compliment, but it isn’t.  If you accuse someone of gold bricking, you’ve accused them of idling, of shirking responsibilities, or of getting someone else to do the job they were supposed to do.  In other words, the person accused of gold bricking has tricked someone into believing that it is of value for them to take the job off the slacker’s hands and do it for him (or her).

It was in the August 2, 2003 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a story from the Associated Press was picked up and posted.  It was part of the “Auto Racing Notebook” column and began with talk of Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and car owner Chip Ganassi.  It went on to talk about the U.S. Grand Prix in June, and Ralf Schumacher, among other topics.  While the article was entitled, “Ganassi Interested In Stewart” the photo by Tom Strattman (also of the Associated Press) was captioned thusly:

Gold-Bricking?  Ryan Newman, winner of last weekend’s race at Pocono, takes a break in the garage area before the start of practice yesterday for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Qualifying for the race is today.

On October 7, 1978 the Pittsburgh Press published a story from New York by George DeWan.  It was about the largest known accumulation of gold — valued at $75 billion US at the time of the story — and where it was stored.  While the journalist noted how safe the location was, he also provided a great of detail in his story.  The headline that went with this story was, “Fed Takes Pride In Being Noted For Goldbricking.”

The Pittsburgh Press was quick to report on gold bricking on July 27, 1952 when ir reported on qualifying for insurance for vets of the Korean War, and mentioned that some of the new laws had been introduced for family members as well.  The article was entitled, “New Law Cuts Goldbricking.”

Some dictionaries claim that the term came about during World War II, however, Idiomation has found the term published in earlier news stories.

Once again, it was in the Pittsburgh Press of January 28, 1934 ran a one paragraph article in the newspaper about a situation happening in Steubenville, Ohio the previous day.  There had been a lot of firings going on, and this is what was reported.

One hundred CWA workers were removed from the payroll here on charges of drunkenness, ineligibility and the old army game of “gold-bricking.”  Charges that some of the men were drunk on the job and that others were loafing, were investigated by the complaint board.  Others were not on the eligible list, the board found.

The article, was simply titled, “Fired for Gold-Bricking.”

And in the October 26, 1923 edition of the Reading Eagle, when it was reported that Socialist candidate for mayor, J. Henry Stump, claimed that the city garbage plant was mismanaged, the article was titled, “Candidate Stump Reviews Statement Made By Mr. Smith:  Asserts City Was Gold Bricked.”   In the story proper, the following was included:

Mr. Stump quotes Mr. Smith as admitting that the city was gold bricked in purchasing the garbage plant, and asserts that the erection of an entirely new plant at the time would have meant a large saving to the city.  Councilman Smith has charge of the city’s garbage disposal.

Perhaps the dictionaries attributing the term to World War II meant it was a term that came about during World War I.  Except that, too, would be incorrect.

The Sarnia Observer newspaper of July 22, 1898 republished a story that had been published in the Windsor Record originally.  The article stated that J.D. Moor, a produce dealer of St. Marys (Ontario)  had been robbed at pistol point and relieved of $9,000 CDN by C. Mott of Philadelphia and his accomplice, J.C. Brown, also of Philadelphia.  A third man, named Bedenfield, involved in the caper managed to escape arrest and couldn’t be found by the police.  Later on, it was learned that J.C. Brown was actually J.C. Blackwell, Bedenfield was actually George Mason,and C. Mott was none other than Chas. Watts, a known Chicago criminal.  This article was entitled, “Gold Bricked The Police: Moore’s Swindlers Were Fully Identified.”

One of the most successful gold brickers was American confidence man, Reed C. Waddell (1860 – 5 April 1895) who is credited for coming up with the gold brick game.  He wasn’t the first, of course, but he was the most successful of his time when it came to gold bricking, raking in $250,000 USD in a ten-year period.

But it was in October 1879 that gold bricking became known when newspapers across the U.S. reported that the bank president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio), Mr. Newell D. Clark had been hoodwinked by miners — led by Peter Lavin — requesting an advance on a 52-pound gold brick in their possession.  The ruse was that the corners of the brick were gold however the body was the brick was not, so when Mr. Clark had the blacksmith cut off one corner of the brick, and an assayer confirmed that the corner was gold, the president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) advanced $10,000 USD to the miners.

In other words, that gold brick was useless to the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) … and gold bricking became synonymous with being fooled or tricked.

To this end, the spirit of the word gold bricking, as it refers to shirking one’s responsibilities and convincing someone else to do the job, is carried over from the incident in 1879.

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