Asphalt History

Asphalt history goes all the way back to ancient Mesopotamians who used asphalt to waterproof temple baths and water tanks.

Similarly, ancient Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Romans used the binding and insulating effects of natural asphalt (found naturally in both asphalt lakes and in rock asphalt).

The word "asphalt" comes from ancient Greeks, from the Greek word ""asphaltos," meaning "secure".

While the most ancient uses of asphalt were to waterproof and bind material with asphalt, the first uses for road-building occurred in Babylon, 625 B.C.

Asphalt History - 1800s

The use of asphalt as a road-building material increased exponentially during the 1800s.

One of the builders, Thomas Telford, built more than 900 miles of roads in Scotland, perfecting the method of building roads with broken stones.

Similarly, John Loudon McAdam, used broken stone joined to form a hard surface to build a Scottish turnpike.

The construction method was later improved, to reduce dust and maintenance, as builders used hot tar to bond the broken stones together, producing "tarmacadam" pavements.

In 1870, a Belgian chemist named Edmund J. DeSmedt made the first true asphalt pavement in the U.S. in Newark, N.J.

The first asphalt plant was opened by The Cummer Company in the 1800s, while the first modern asphalt production facility was opened by the Warren Brothers in East Cambridge, MA, in 1901.

The first asphalt production patent, meanwhile, was filed by Nathan B. Abbott of Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1871.

Asphalt History - 1900s to 2000s

In the year 1900 Frederick J. Warren filed a patent for "Bitulithic" pavement, a mixture of bitumen and aggregate.

As advances in the use of asphalt increased, the production of refined petroleum asphalt outstripped the use of natural asphalt by early 1900s.

This innovation boom was fueled by the fact that as cars grew in popularity, the demand for more and better roads led to innovations in both producing and laying asphalt.

During World War II, asphalt technology improved vastly, primarily due to the fact that military uses needed surfaces that could withstand heavy loads.

Standards development within the asphalt industry took a leap 1955, as The National Bituminous Concrete Association(now known as the National Asphalt Pavement Association or NAPA) was founded.

As car ownership since World War II skyrocketed, innovations for heavy equipment to facilitate more road-building included electronic leveling controls, extra-wide finishers for paving two lanes at once and vibratory steel-wheel rollers.

The energy crisis of the 1970s spurred the need for recycled asphalt.

As a result, asphalt is the most recycled material in the U.S. today, with more than 70 million metric tons of asphalt paving material being recycled each year.

In fact, the major innovations in the industry today have to do with improvements in recyclable asphalt methods and equipment.

Also, the industry has developed advanced pavement materials including Open Graded Friction Course (OGFC), Superpave, and Stone Matrix Asphalt (SMA), also called gap-graded Superpave.

The major development efforts of today include asphalt development for less noise, greater durability, enhanced skid resistance, reduced splash and spray in rainy weather, and a smoother ride for today's demanding drivers.

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