The History and Future of Concrete

Anyone who needs the services of a Houston concrete contractor will likely understand just how important and widespread concrete is to our society and throughout the world. Others may simply overlook concrete until somebody points out just how prevalent it is. The elementary school down the street was likely built with concrete. The hospital just past the overpass was probably made with concrete as well. Other examples of structures built with concrete include tunnels, roads and sewage systems. Even metal buildings use concrete slabs for their foundation. In fact, concrete is the world’s second-most consumed product after water. This mass usage is understandable as it is the most durable, versatile, energy-efficient building material available.

Concrete has had quite a history as well. In fact, cement first made an appearance in the form of oil shale and limestone more than 12 million years ago in present day Israel. The first known structures created from concrete-like materials were built in present-day Jordan and Syria about 8,500 years ago. This group of people also learned how to use hydraulic lime to make cement that hardens when it is placed in water. They later discovered how important it was to keep concrete mix dry while it is being created so that it does not weaken. These later developments occurred a little more than 2,500 years ago.

Around the year 75AD, the Romans used a form of cement to build structures such as the Coliseum, one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. Fifty years later, they built the Pantheon, which is home to the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. It is 142 feet in diameter, 142 feet above the floor and still stands today.

Unfortunately, the quality of cement actually deteriorated in the Middle Ages before the substance made a comeback in the late 1700s, thanks to John Smeaton, the “father of civil engineering.” In 1793, he modernized the production of hydraulic lime, which would lead to the creation of Portland cement, the most common type of cement used today, by Joseph Aspdin in 1824.

Cement was brought to the United States a few decades later. In 1875, William Ward built a reinforced home in Port Chester, N.Y., which still stands today. The country’s first concrete street was created 16 years later in Bellefontaine, Ohio. It still exists as well. The Ingalls Building, the first reinforced concrete skyscraper in the world, was built in 1903 in Cincinnati.

An incredible total of 3.3 million yards of concrete was used to build the Hoover Dam, which was completed in 1935. Engineers ensured that the concrete that was utilized would actually become stronger as time passed. Some other incredible structures that have been primarily built with concrete include the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Today, concrete is the centerpiece of a $35 billion business that employs 2 million people in the Houston and worldwide building, foundation contractor and paving contractor industry.
What does the future bring? It will most likely include cement with more additives and plasticity. The time between pourings is expected to narrow even further as innovations continue to be made. The concrete itself is also expected to continue to become thinner for structures such as footbridges. Robotics will likely be used in a greater capacity to quicken the speed of construction, and concrete may also start to replace asphalt as the surface of choice for roads for reasons related to safety and noise.