The Long History of Concrete and Cement

The Long History of Concrete and Cement

We would all like to believe that concrete was created accidentally by Fred Flintstone and his bumbling buddy, Barney Rubble as in the 1994 movie, The Flintstones. It is true that the first version of the material was indeed a natural “accident” nearly 12 million years ago, but common usage of the “self-cementing” compound wasn’t until around 700 BC. Since then, commercial concrete and cement have perpetually evolved to become one of the most commonly used construction materials for both standing structures and roadways.

During the era of the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece, architects and builders used a volcanic ash based cement and discovered that by adding horse hair to the mix, the cement was not as likely to crack as it dried and by adding blood (yes, blood), the hardened concrete withstood the cold more efficiently. Early builders also added clay to strengthen the material and reduce fractures in archways. For nearly 700 years between 300 BC and 400 AD, the ancient form of concrete became a primary material used for pillars, arches and the creation of flooring and cisterns. The flexibility of cement allowed architects freedom in their designs, giving them the ability to create structures very difficult to build using stone or brick.

Although use of ash and clay-based cement faded after the fall of the Roman Empire, by the early 16th century, use of the compound began its return to day-to-day structures and more. By the 18th century, commercial concrete was again used as a primary building material thanks to British engineer, John Smeaton. The engineer added hydraulic lime, pebbles and powdered brick to strengthen the material which directly led to the invention of Portland cement over a century later. In 1884, the creation of “reinforced” concrete changed the face of the Industrial Era and in 1889, the first reinforced concrete bridge was built, followed shortly by the Hoover Dam, the largest concrete dam in the world, in 1936. While the bridge has seen better days, the Hoover Dam stands as a testament to the successful evolution of commercial concrete and cement.

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