When Was Concrete Invented? The History of Concrete

01 when was concrete invented

Concrete is one of the critical building materials of the modern era. Its extreme strength and moldability make it ideal for construction projects. You can find concrete everywhere, from sidewalks to the famous Burj Khalifa. For residential homes, concrete can be used in walkways, patios, pool decks, basement floors, roof tiles and various other spaces.

With thousands of years of history and hundreds of uses, concrete is one of the most exciting building materials. Understanding where it comes from and how we got to modern concrete can help you appreciate its place in your home. Explore concrete and see if learning more about it will help you decide on concrete as the material for your next home project.

When Was Concrete Invented?

While several ancient civilizations used an early version of concrete in building, Ancient Rome is considered the starting point of concrete as a widely-used building material.

Concrete has had a long and varied history. The earliest exact concrete uses are debated, but several early concrete uses are found in the ancient world. Built during the 9th century BCE, the Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is the earliest known structure to use lime. Lime is an essential component of concrete, making this the earliest version of concrete we know of. 

Who Invented Concrete?

Concrete, as we know it now, can be traced back to Portland cement, a concrete invented by Joseph Aspdin and perfected by his son William Aspdin in the 1840s.

While many versions of concrete came before the Aspdins’, theirs is the version we’ve built our architectural foundations on today. William Aspdin’s concrete was extremely strong and slow-setting, making it ideal for durable construction.

History of Concrete

Concrete as a material has a history stretching back thousands of years. Its strength, usefulness and versatility have made it a lasting construction material for humanity.

Its precise origins are unclear — concrete invention and evolution occurred in the thousands of years before written records and photographs were abundant. Most evidence of early concrete comes from structures that have stood for thousands of years through weather, vandalism and time.

Early Concrete

As mentioned, the lime concrete floors of the Göbekli Tepe are considered the first use of lime in construction. After the construction of the Göbekli Tepe, the Nabatea traders of present-day Syria and Jordan built structures with material similar to concrete in 6500 BCE. Following this, they discovered hydraulic lime and would eventually build concrete floors and cisterns by 700 BCE.

Other early civilizations would use concrete-like materials occasionally in construction, but it wasn’t until Ancient Rome that concrete use became widespread.

Ancient China and Rome

In Ancient China, sticky rice mortar was combined with lime-tile dust mortar to strengthen the Great Wall in the 8th, 5th and 2nd centuries BCE and other periods preceding the Ming Dynasty. The volcanic ash — called pozzolana — used to form hydraulic cement in Rome was unavailable in China, so this concrete-adjacent material was used for centuries.

Ancient Rome is considered the official birthplace of hydraulic cement. A mixture of water with volcanic ash and lime was used to form a mortar which, when mixed with aggregate, created “Roman concrete.” By 3 BCE, ancient Romans were mixing concrete in different ratios depending on its use in underwater or aboveground construction. Many Roman structures have survived for over 2000 years thanks to their concrete composition, including one of the most famous Roman feats, the Pantheon.

Middle Ages

The next significant concrete uses would occur in the Middle Ages. After Ancient Rome’s prolific concrete use, concrete briefly fell out of favor. Once stone use in construction became popular again for churches and castles, demand for quality mortar appeared. With this came a refinement of building techniques.

While demand for stone buildings and mortar grew in the 1100s and 1200s, it was when the Pont Notre-Dame bridge was built in the late 1400s to early 1500s that concrete would return to popularity. The bridge’s pillars were made from Roman-style concrete to provide strength and stability.

After this, concrete became more popular in Western European construction. However, the next development in concrete technology would not occur until the Industrial Revolution.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution saw an explosion in technological development. Inventions pushed industry further than ever before, leading to rapid advancement for humanity. Concrete was one of the many technologies that received an update.

02 notable names in concrete invention and development

Notable Names in Concrete Invention and Development

During and after the Industrial Revolution, a few notable inventors and engineers made extensive progress in the development of concrete as we know it today.

John Smeaton

The first major concrete advancement of the 1700s came from John Smeaton and his work on the Eddystone Lighthouse. The British engineer finished the lighthouse in 1759.

Before beginning work on the lighthouse, Smeaton tested multiple hydraulic mortars to find differences in their properties. His work massively improved our understanding of concrete development. Smeaton’s critical note on the effects of adding trass — German pozzolana — to lime and Italian pozzolana would be the first step toward modern concrete.

Smeaton would publish his concrete findings before his death, allowing other engineers to review and build off his work. Without Smeaton’s work studying cement properties for the Eddystone Lighthouse, modern concrete may have taken much longer to advance.

Joseph Aspdin

Bricklayer Joseph Aspdin patented his Portland cement in 1824. Named after the Portland stone it resembled, Aspdin’s version of Portland cement was less impressive or groundbreaking than the cement his son would later develop.

Asp cement was similar to other concretes of the time — decently reliable but not as long-lasting as our modern cement. Joseph Aspdin built a recognizable brand under the Portland cement name, which his son would later use for his own cement.

William Aspdin

Following in his father’s footsteps, William Aspdin spent the 1840s developing a new, better version of cement. He used his father’s Portland cement brand to ensure his product would have an existing customer base. However, William’s Portland cement was far more advanced than any other cement of the day. It became the foundation for modern cement and earned him a spot in history as the inventor of modern cement.

Portland cement from Aspdin was slow-setting and high-strength. Additionally, he discovered the clinkering process. Clinkering involves heating materials to high temperatures. This process created clinker, an in-between material. The clinker was pulverized and used as a cement binder to enhance the material’s strength. Aspdin’s unique concrete process meant his concrete was twice as strong as other concretes of the time. 

Aspdin’s concrete work and development have led to Portland concrete being one of the most popular concrete types used today. With hard work, dedication and a desire to advance his field, Aspdin took thousands of years of concrete development and changed construction forever.

03 CTA lasting exterior work with coldstream exteriors

Lasting Exterior Work With Coldstream Exteriors

Coldstream Exteriors delivers high-quality, expert concrete work to Greater Cincinnati area homeowners. We’re dedicated to providing our customers with the most advanced home construction work to ensure durability and design. Our customer service is unmatched — with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and 2019. 2020 and 2021 Angie Super Service Awards, you can count on us to provide you with the best service around. 

With over 25 years of experience, trust Coldstream Exteriors with all your roofing repair and replacement needs. From expert window work to siding and gutters, choose our team for all your exterior home projects. If you’re looking for superior, affordable exterior services, schedule your free inspection today.