The Rutland Fire Clay Company is named after the town where it is headquartered, Rutland, Vermont. It was founded there in 1883 as a manufacturer of stove linings. Like most companies that made fireproof products in the late 19th and early 20th century, it used a lot of asbestos in its materials.
Because of the high quality of its stove linings, it made money and began to expand into the manufacture of other similar items, dealing primarily with the maintenance of wood stoves for households. The company even published a catalog in the early 1920s listing 26 products that could be ordered for home consumption. Some, such as patching plaster and repair cements for wood stoves, contained asbestos.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Rutland was again expanding, opening plants in different places around the country. In the late 1990s it built another factory, this time in Jacksonville, Illinois. Its products were selling internationally as well as all over the country.
However, the company’s problems were beginning to build. People had started noticing a global trend of unusual lung diseases developing in workers who used asbestos. One cancer was so closely linked to its use that it came to be called Asbestosis. Mesothelioma was another, more aggressive cancer linked to exposure to asbestos.
The durable mineral is made up of microscopic, sharp fibers that are released when asbestos is broken. The tiny shards can be inhaled and become embedded in the lungs, damaging the tissue over time. It is as durable within the lungs as it is inside a furnace. Once trapped there, the fibers remain, slowly destroying their host.
The U.S. government began issuing warnings about asbestos, but many companies did not heed them. Asbestos was not banned, but new safety guidelines were issued–and for the most part, ignored.
Rutland stopped using asbestos in the early 1970s, but around 37,000 former employees and customers claim to be sick from asbestos exposure. Today the company is in business and still making stove linings as well as many other products. It focuses on fireplace and barbeque items, including cleaning brushes and supplies.