Concrete, originally composed of crushed limestone, is an essential fixture of the modern world. Used to build skyscrapers, dams, and airplane hangars—to name a few—it has shaped human history in an influential way. Concrete is sometimes regarded as a simple material, but its complex history proves otherwise. The advances throughout history have also lent much in the way of concrete repair and maintenance.
In fact, the remains of the first concrete-like buildings—created by Nabataea traders in 6500 B.C.—still stand today. Their ability to create concrete allowed the Nabataea tribes to persevere in desert conditions. 500 years later the Romans caught onto the Nabataea secrets. Both of these cultures had local access to fine silica sand, allowing them to waterproof their cement creations. Nabataea cement buildings closely resemble modern cement buildings. Romans, on the other hand, used a unique building process. Rather than pouring concrete into molds to make one smooth, finished product, they cobbled stones together and filled in the gaps with mortar.
By 200 BC, this building process was very successful and was used for most of the contemporary Roman structures. Romans also devised the first substantial uses of cementitious binding agents—harena fossicia and Pozzuolana—to build their more skillful structures as well as those that came into contact with water. Overall, the advances in cement mixtures and concrete built structures proved the Romans to be one of the most influential cultures in the development of concrete.
Concrete History: The Steps to Present-Day Construction
Much has changed since the era of the Romans, though, and we now have access to much more reliable, advanced concrete technology. Portland cement is now used to make concrete, which can be manufactured to precise instruction. It was initially produced in the early 1860s and is still popular today. Considered rudimentary and unsophisticated, Portland cement was rarely used for anything by industrial buildings at first.
We have compiled a time line of influential moments in concrete history from the development of Portland cement into the present day:
• 1875: The first home built from concrete, Ward’s Castle, was completed
• 1877: Construction using steel-reinforced concrete first began
• 1891: The first concrete street was completed in the U.S.
• 1904: The Ingalls Building was built, making it the first high-rise constructed with concrete
• 1917: The standard formula for Portland cement was conceived
• 1930: Air-entraining developments increased usability and resistance to extreme cold
• 1935: The Hoover Damn was completed, requiring 4,360,000 total yards of concrete
• 2011: The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was built with reinforced concrete
As you can see, concrete has had a long and varied history. Some of the world’s most memorable sights have concrete to thank for their longevity and prominence, not to mention its important role as a utilitarian material found in countless everyday structures. Learn about the unique history of asphalt, another vital construction material, from Unique Paving Materials.