Asphalt vs. Concrete. When Were These Materials First Used on the Roads We Use Today?

Asphalt vs. Concrete. When Were These Materials First Used on the Roads We Use Today?

Not many people stop to consider the ground under their own feet or the roads under their tires. However, the materials that make up the nation’s infrastructure have long and interesting origins that are worth exploring. For example, asphalt and concrete have been reliable construction tools for centuries.

History of Concrete

There are numerous examples of older civilizations using concrete-like materials to build infrastructure. The ancient Egyptians used a mixture of mud and straw to make bricks, as well as vast amounts of gypsum and lime mortars to create their famous pyramids. Meanwhile, in China, people were using mortars made of various materials, including sticky rice, to produce sturdy structures. The Romans also had their concrete-like building material, which was composed of fragments of rock, lime, and volcanic sand.

Although similar in application, none of these are quite the same as modern-day concrete, which is made of a combination of Portland cement, water, and aggregates of sand and stone. Portland cement — named due to its similarities to building materials in Portland, England — was invented in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin. Aspdin’s creation was the result of burning clay and ground chalk in a kiln, removing carbon dioxide in the process.

After several decades of testing and refining the material, people began using concrete as a common building tool. While England and France were quicker to adopt the use of concrete for home construction, the first concrete home in the U.S. appeared in 1875. William Ward created the structure in New York, on its border with Connecticut, where it still stands today. The first concrete street soon followed, appearing in 1891.

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History of Asphalt

Asphalt is known for being cheaper than concrete but requiring more maintenance. This material can last up to 20 years, whereas concrete can have twice that lifespan. Still, it’s a common and indispensable tool when it comes to infrastructure. According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, asphalt covers more than 94 percent of the country’s paved roads.

Asphalt seems to have first appeared as a road material in Babylon in 615 BCE. Greeks and Romans also found a use for the naturally occurring material, and they used it as a sealant in their infrastructure projects. Around 1595, European explorer Sir Walter Raleigh found and used asphalt to repair his ships as he ventured near Venezuela.

Asphalt didn’t appear as a pavement material in the U.S. until 1870. Chemist Edmund DeSmedt used an asphalt mix to pave an area in Newark, New Jersey. In the decades that followed, asphalt — in both natural and refined forms — became a common tool in road construction.

Modern Uses

These days, asphalt and concrete are used in all sorts of projects that contribute to daily convenience. Construction companies like 801 Asphalt pave everything from private driveways to mall parking lots, and concrete is useful for pedestrian areas and large-scale projects like dams and bridges. These materials aren’t just one-time use either. Both asphalt and concrete can be recycled for future projects, ensuring used materials don’t go to waste.

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