Concrete is used everywhere. One way or another we've all interacted with it. You might've taken the walk to school on concrete pavements, built a house using cement / concrete as building blocks, used concrete in your garden or walked over paving slabs made from this rock-like material. Concrete is a very old construction material that has been used for everything from bridges, to buildings, to sidewalks.
Have you ever wondered how concrete is made? Or, when were the first concrete structures created? Have you ever wondered how concrete got to be the way it is today? Or where it came from? If you love learning about stuff that dates back to ancient times, then get ready to dig into the history of concrete.
Concrete is a mixture of sand, gravel and water that is used to build houses and other structures. It hardens over time as the cement dries out. Although concrete is a relatively recent invention, humans have been using cement for thousands of years. The first concrete was a crude cement made of crushed and burned gypsum or limestone. When sand and water were added to these cements, they became mortar, which was used to adhere stones to each other. Modern concrete is a combination of cement, sand, water, aggregate and chemicals that hardens into a rock-like substance. (Gromicko and Shepard)
In about 1300 BC, Middle Eastern builders found that when they coated the outsides of their pounded-clay fortresses and home walls with a thin, damp coating of burned limestone, it reacted chemically with gases in the air to form a hard, protective surface. This wasn’t concrete but was the beginning of the development of cement. (Gromicko and Shepard)
Early cementitious composite materials were typically made by mixing crushed limestone and sand with water, which was then used to build structures of stone, as opposed to casting the material in a mold, which is how modern concrete is used. (Gromicko and Shepard)
However, the word “concrete” often refers to the end product, which is not the same thing as cement. Cement is an ingredient in concrete, but it’s not the only ingredient. Concrete is a mixture of sand, rock, and cement. The cement and water paste coat the surfaces of the sand and rocks, binding them together into a paste known as concrete. Once the water dries out, concrete becomes hard as a rock and retains its shape. On the other hand, Cement is made from limestone, clay, shells, chalk, shale, slate, silica sand and sometimes blast furnace slag or iron ore. These ingredients are crushed then heated at high temperatures to result in clinker. Gypsum is added to the clinker, then the whole mixture is finely ground to produce cement powder. (BigRentz)
Historical Timeline for the Use of Concrete
The Nabataea traders built the earliest recorded concrete structures in regions of Syria and Jordan around 6500 BC. They made floors, housing, and underground water tanks.
Egyptians used mud mixed with straw to bind dried bricks around 3000 BC. They also used gypsum mortars and mortars of lime in the pyramids, including the Great Pyramids at Giza, which used about 500,000 tons of mortar. A form of cement was also used to build the Great Wall of China around this time.
Around 600 BC, The Ancient Romans weren't the first to create concrete, but they were the first to use it widely. In 200 BC, the Romans successfully implemented concrete in their construction by mixing volcanic ash and lime with seawater. They packed the mix into wooden forms, then stacked the blocks like bricks after they hardened. After more than 2,000 years, Roman concrete structures still stand tall due to their ingredients colliding with Earth's natural chemistry. (Giatec Scientific Inc.)
The use of concrete was lost during the Middle Ages. During the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, pozzolan cement-making techniques were lost until 1414 when manuscripts describing those techniques rekindled interest in building with concrete. (Gromicko and Shepard)
John Smeaton discovered a more modern method for producing hydraulic lime for cement in 1793. He used limestone containing clay that was fired until it turned into clinker, which was then ground into powder. He used this material in the historic rebuilding of the Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall, England. (Gromicko and Shepard)
In 1824, Englishman Joseph Aspdin invented Portland cement by burning finely ground chalk and clay in a kiln until the carbon dioxide was removed. He named it after the high-quality building stones found in Portland, England. After he refined his method for making cement by carefully proportioning limestone and clay, pulverizing them, and then burning the mixture into a clinker, he ground it into finished cement. (Gromicko and Shepard)
The first widespread use of Portland cement in home construction was in England and France between 1850 and 1880 by Francois Coignet, who added steel rods to prevent exterior walls from spreading. The first home constructed using reinforced concrete was a servant’s cottage built in England by William B. Wilkinson in 1854. In 1875, mechanical engineer William Ward completed the first reinforced concrete home in the U.S., which still stands today in Port Chester, New York. Ward was diligent in maintaining construction records, so a great deal is known about this home. It was built out of concrete because of his wife’s fear of fire, and it looked like masonry in order to be more socially acceptable. (Gromicko and Shepard)
Concrete is one of the most revolutionary materials to ever be discovered. It has been used to build some of the most resilient constructions in human history, and will continue to do so with all the novel uses it has yet to be put to. Even though it was invented thousands of years ago, concrete continues to astound with its versatility and practicality. We believe that concrete's future is bright, and we hope that the material's history will be preserved for those who want to see what the past built and how far we have come as a society because of it.