I remember bricked from the early to mid-2000s, when programming mobile phone involved plugging it into a special jig and flashing new firmware into the EEPROM.
If something went wrong, the phone would not boot at all and could not be recovered, rendering it no more useful than a brick on your desk.
I found some similar uses from the 1990s in Usenet.
From: Hank Gupton
Subject: Re: HP 4020I Frimware 1.2??
The firmware upgrade is being released in new drives. But, the
delivery system for firmware upgrades is still being worked on.
To this I say, "Good job, guys!" But, what is wrong with a Beta
release of the software with the following statement?
Warning: This upgrade is a fast way of turning your
thousand dollar investment into a brick.
Use at your own risk.
From: "Robert Holloman, Jr."
Subject: Re: V.90
Plus there's always the small possibility of "bricking" the modem due to
a failed flash. That happened recently with one Sportster model. I was
flashing my Courier recently only to have the power brownout a couple
minutes after it finished. Was I breathing a sigh of relief! That was
the incentive for me to finally get a UPS. :)