The History of Concrete

Notable Developments in the Evolution of Concrete

There is no denying that concrete and the technology surrounding it has come a long way since its discovery and development. From the Great Pyramids at Giza to smart sensors for testing concrete temperature, maturity, etc., we’ve put together a list of notable events and discoveries in the history of concrete.

6500BC – UAE: The earliest recordings of concrete structures date back to 6500BC by the Nabataea traders in regions of Syria and Jordan. They created concrete floors, housing structures, and underground cisterns.

3000 BC – Egypt and China: Egyptians used mud mixed with straw to bind dried bricks. They also used gypsum mortars and mortars of lime in the pyramids. The Great Pyramids at Giza used about 500,000 tons of mortar. A form of cement was also used to build the Great Wall of China around this time.

600 BC – Rome: Although the Ancient Romans weren’t the first to create concrete, they were first to utilize this material widespread. By 200 BC, the Romans successfully implemented the use of concrete in the majority of their construction. They used a mixture of volcanic ash, lime, and seawater to form the mix. They then packed the mix into wooden forms, and once hardened, stacked the blocks like brick. After more than 2,000 years, Roman concrete structures stand tall due to their ingredients colliding with Earth’s natural chemistry.

Technological Milestones: during the Middle Ages, concrete technology crept backward. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the technique for making pozzolan cement was lost until the discovery of manuscripts describing it was found in 1414. This rekindled interest in building with concrete.

1793 – It wasn’t until 1793 that the technology took a big leap forward when John Smeaton discovered a more modern method for producing hydraulic lime for cement. 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.

1824 – Joseph Aspdin invented Portland cement by burning finely ground chalk and clay until the carbon dioxide was removed. Aspdin named the cement after the high-quality building stones quarried in Portland, England.

19th Century – concrete was used mainly for industrial buildings. 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.

1830 – Lime and hydraulic cement is produced for the first time in Canada.

1849 – Reinforced concrete was invented by Joseph Monier.

1854 - The first home constructed using reinforced concrete was built in England by William Wilkinson. The first reinforced concrete home in the U.S. was built in 1875 by William Ward. This is said to be the start of what is now a $35 billion industry in America.

1889 – The first reinforced concrete bridge is built.

1891 – George Bartholomew poured the first concrete street in the U.S., and it still exists today. The concrete used for this street tested at about 8,000 psi, which is about twice the strength of modern concrete used today.

– Basic cement tests were standardized.

1902 – August Perret designed and built an apartment building in Paris using steel-reinforced concrete for the columns, beams, and floor slabs. Concrete became more socially acceptable as the building featured an elegant façade.

1904 – The first concrete high-rise building, the Ingalls building, was constructed in Cincinnati, Ohio. It stands 16 stories tall.

1913 – The first ready-mix load was delivered in Baltimore, Maryland. Four years later, the National Bureau of Standards and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International) established a standard formula for Portland cement.

1930 – Air Entraining agents were developed that greatly increased concrete’s resistance to freezing and improved its workability. It was an important development in improving the durability of modern concrete. Air Entrainment is the use of agents that, when added to concrete during mixing, create many air bubbles that are extremely small and closely spaced, and most of them remain in the hardened concrete.

1936 – First large concrete dams, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam were built and still exist today.

1967 – The Assembly Hall, the first concrete domed sport structure, was constructed at the University of Illinois.

1970 – Fiber reinforced concrete was introduced. Fibrous material increases the concrete’s structural integrity. Fibers can be made from polypropylene, nylon, steel, or blends of different materials. Methods have also been developed to make use of recycled tires to create fiber reinforced concrete.

1985 – Union Plaza in Seattle, Washington was constructed using the “highest strength” concrete.

– A new height record was set by 311S Wacker Drive in Chicago. The reinforced concrete building stands at 920 ft.

1999 – Polished concrete is introduced to the United States by HTC. Although the Bellagio in Las Vegas is the first installation in the United States to see the polished concrete, its popularity quickly soared due to its pleasing aesthetics. Today it is used in everything from stores to homes including floors and pieces of furniture.

2000 – The first standards and certification program for sustainable construction called LEED is launched by the United States Green Building Council. This sparked a new push toward green building and brought on new criteria for evaluating building materials and their performance.

2003 – The Solaire, the first green residential high-rise building in the United States is built just blocks away from ground zero and sets new standards with New York building agencies.

2004 – Creators add special fibers created by Hungarian architect Aron Losonczi that transmit light in concrete to create translucent concrete.

2010Giatec is established and starts offering IoT solutions to the concrete industry. This same year the Burj Khalifa in Dubai sets the new record for tallest structure built with reinforced concrete. It stands at an impressive 2,717 ft. tall.

2016 – The world’s first fully functional 3D printed building, the Office of the Future, is completed and celebrates its grand opening in Dubai.

What next?

As technology evolves, it's no secret that concrete will continue its evolution. What will we see in the next 10, 50, or 100 years?