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 numerous advancements throughout history have also facilitated much in the way of concrete repair, maintenance, and more. That is why our team wants to relay the steps that have got us to modern concrete innovation. Learn more about the history of concrete from our informational guide today.
What Exactly Is Concrete?
Concrete is a stone-like mass used for a variety of manufacturing applications and projects. It is mainly comprised of these components:
- A binding material, such as cement or limestone
- An aggregate, such as sand or gravel
- Water, as an adhesive
When all the materials are combined, a paste-like mixture is formed. From there, you are able to sculpt the paste for your application. Once the paste is hardened, that is when the concrete we are familiar with is formed.
The Early Stages of Concrete History
The remains of the first concrete-like buildings—created by Nabataea traders in 6500 B.C.E.—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 B.C.E., this building process was very successful and was used for most of the contemporary Roman structures. Romans also devised the first substantial use of cementitious binding agents—harena fossicia and pozzolana—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 instructions. It was initially produced in the early 1860s and is still popular today.
Additionally, we have compiled an extensive timeline of influential moments in concrete history from the development of Portland cement into the present day. Here are some of those important dates:
- 1875 – The first home built from concrete, Ward’s Castle, was completed.
- 1877 – Construction using steel-reinforced concrete first began.
- 1889 – The first concrete-reinforced bridge, Alvord Lake Bridge was built in the United States in San Francisco.
- 1891 – The first concrete street was completed in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
- 1903 – The Ingalls Building was built in Cincinnati, Ohio, making it the first high-rise constructed with concrete.
- 1908 – Thomas Edison created the first concrete home in Union, New Jersey, which is still standing to this day.
- 1915 – Colored concrete was first created by the L.M. Scofield company.
- 1930 – Air-entraining developments increased concrete usability and resistance to extreme cold.
- 1935 – The Hoover Dam was built along the Colorado River, requiring 4,360,000 total yards of concrete.
- 1939 – The first 3D-printed, multistory structure was created by William Urschel in Indiana.
- 1963 – The first concrete sports dome, the Assembly Hall, was built at the University of Illinois.
- 1990 – Concrete engraving was introduced when Darrel Adamson designed the Engrave-A-Crete® system.
- 1992 – The U.S. Interstate Highway was completed.
- 1998 – Eco-friendly “green” concrete was created.
- 1999 – The first polished concrete floor was installed for the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
- 2003 – Self-cleaning concrete was created to clean itself as well as possible pollutants in the air around it.
- 2011 – The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was built with reinforced concrete.
What Is Next in Concrete Innovation?
Though concrete has been used as a manufacturing staple for thousands of years, it is important to note that new applications are still being developed for this essential material. So along with the history of concrete itself, we want to highlight what else may be in the works for concrete, including the following:
- Light-generating concrete – This new form of concrete was created to absorb light during the day and to emit light during the night. Since it eliminates the use of electricity, roads, bridges, and more could benefit from this technology, making it safer to navigate these areas.
- 3D printing for residential construction – As of 2022, concrete in some applications has been combined with wood framing in order to create inexpensive residential housing that produces a small amount of additional waste. This is a huge step in concrete history compared to the 3D printing of the “Wall Building Machine” back in 1939.
- Graphene concrete – This inexpensive and eco-friendly concrete is known to be compatible with large-scale manufacturing requirements. Additionally, this concrete material can be used to produce smaller structural elements, ultimately reducing the cost of projects, as well as the amount of materials used.
Concrete’s history of being a reliable material also makes it an essential tool for constructing some of our most fascinating buildings, and this is unlikely to change in the future.
For example, the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, comprised of steel and concrete, is set to beat the Burj Khalifa for the status of the tallest building in the world, though the project has yet to be completed after over 10 years of construction and setbacks.
The History of Concrete in Conclusion
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 concrete’s important role as a utilitarian material found in countless everyday structures. As for the future, we should continue to see the use of concrete as the foundation of even bigger and better projects.
Learn about the unique history of asphalt, another vital construction material, from UNIQUE Paving Materials.
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