Concrete is one of the most widely used building materials in the world. It has been with us for centuries, and its use has evolved over time. From the secret underground cisterns of the Nabataean merchants to modern-day reinforced concrete structures, concrete has been used in a variety of ways throughout history. In this article, we will explore the history of concrete, from its invention in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin to its modern-day uses.
Aspdin invented Portland cement by burning finely ground chalk and clay until carbon dioxide was removed. He named it after high-quality building stones mined in Portland, England. Small-scale production of concrete-like materials was pioneered by the Nabataean merchants, who occupied and controlled a number of oases and developed a small empire in the southern regions of Syria and northern Jordan from the 4th century BC. They discovered the advantages of hydraulic lime, with some self-cementing properties, around 700 BC.
They built kilns to supply mortar for the construction of rubble masonry houses, concrete floors and waterproof underground cisterns. In its goal of creating a better alternative to the building material of the Romans, Aspdin's Portland cement inspired competition to create even better versions of it. With the first uses of cement and concrete, there was an evolution of products. We developed many ways to change substances to work better for us, which affects the history of concrete construction over time.
At the end of the 19th century, people in Germany, France and the US began using concrete for industrial construction. In 1913, ready-mixed concrete was delivered to Baltimore, Maryland. This made worksites more efficient as workers no longer had to mix concrete on site. A few decades later, we discovered that the production of small air bubbles, known as air entrainment, improved concrete.
This made it easier to work with and less prone to freezing. Around the same time, builders developed thin-layer concrete for roofs, domes, arches and other similar structures. As technology advanced, builders and architects were able to create curves, cutouts and other striking design elements from concrete. This allowed them to build churches, museums, houses and more with some historical concrete structures.
The invention of reinforced concrete gave the material a new life. It was pioneered in France in the mid-19th century but was popularized by California-based engineer Ernest Ransome who poured it onto iron (and later steel) bars to improve their tensile strength. Today and in the future, we will continue to use concrete to build innovative buildings, houses, apartments, hotels, sculptures and much more. Its height, strength and size are a sign of its versatility as a building material.