Nowadays, it seems like we’re all going gaga over the latest, hottest gadgets. We’re all glued to our iPhones and tablets and other neat new techno toys, and that’s all well and good. But some essential products of human ingenuity have become overlooked and underappreciated, even taken for granted. For instance, concrete. Where would we be as a society without concrete? We probably wouldn’t have the Hoover Dam, for one thing. More importantly, concrete is the most popular building material in existence.
Concrete – often confused with cement, which is actually an ingredient in concrete – dates back to historical periods that have since risen to nearly mythical status. While the ancient Egyptians did not technically use concrete in their Pyramid building endeavors, they did notice that their mud and straw bricks gained a bit more durability with gypsum and lime mortars added, according to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI). The source notes that at least 500,000 tons of mortar went into constructing the pyramids – so we can say they were made out of a sort of proto-concrete, although not quite the real McCoy.
Ancient Romans and Greeks came a bit closer to applying what we think of today as concrete – especially the Romans. Both used pozzuolana leftover from volcanoes, according to Auburn University, but the NACHI explains that the Romans were a great deal more prolific with their version of concrete. The Romans used it to build bridges, aqueducts, and various other devices for irrigation, not to mention The Pantheon and The Coliseum. Tragically, the end of the Roman Empire largely marked the end of concrete’s first era as a popular building material a bit after 400 AD, according to Auburn.
The genesis of what is considered modern concrete transpired in 1824, when an Englishman by the name of Joseph Aspdin filed a patent for Portland cement, a mixture of several minerals including calcium and silicon, which is the basis for the concrete builders use today. Twenty years later, Aspdin’s offspring William came up with a method for the creation of sturdier Portland cement, which involved more heating and grinding. While Joseph Aspdin isn’t solely responsible for Portland cement and the resulting concrete, the historical resource Aspdin.net nonetheless credits him as the man who “arguably created the most useful thing to ever emerge from Leeds [England].” With due respect to famous actors Malcolm McDowell and Peter O’Toole who hail from the same area, they might have a pretty good point.
Plenty has happened in the world of concrete since Aspdin’s time. It’s been used to forge everything from kitchen counter tops to art. But one of its most impressive applications is the Trump Intentional Hotel & Tower in Chicago, completed in 2009. Construction Week Online notes that the nearly 1,400 foot-tall building reaches a height greater than any other concrete structure, and the ninth tallest building made of any material in the entire world. So next time you meet qualified concrete experts, remind them that they’re doing important work. Clearly, the human race needs concrete.