The concrete of today – concrete with Portland cement – was invented in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin. The first concrete with limestone, however, was already used at 6500 BC by the Nabataea traders in today’s Syria and Jordan. Reinforced concrete was invented and patented by Joseph-Louis Lambot in 1848.
But how did concrete evolve over time? And where is it heading?
This roundup will reveal key facts about the history of concrete and its future development.
The Development Of Concrete Over Time
Here’s a quick overview of how concrete has developed from 6500 BC to today.
|Time||Concrete characteristics||Concrete elements||Location|
|6500 BC||Hydraulic lime||Houses, floors and cisterns||Northern Jordan and southern Syria (Nabataea traders)|
|5600 BC||Lime, sand, water and gravel||Floor||Today’s Serbia|
|3000 BC – 700 BC||Mortar from gypsum and clay – later: lime mortar||Walls, floors and the Great Wall||China|
|3000 BC||Bricks made from mud and straw||Bricks||Egypt|
|500 BC||Pozzolanic material Santorin||Houses||Greece|
|200 BC||Pozzolans with hydraulic properties. This type hardened under water||Buildings like Porticus Aemilia and baths||Rome/Italy (Roman Empire)|
|500 – 1500||Concrete was not used. Knowledge was lost||–||Europe (Middle Ages)|
|1793||Hydraulic lime; limestone contained clay which was heated until it turned into clinker||Eddystone lighthouse||England|
|1824||Invention of Portland cement, sand, aggregates and water||–||England|
|1848||Reinforced concrete||First: small water tanks and drinking fountains; later: floors; today: columns, walls, floors, beams, bridges, etc.||France|
|1990s||3D printed concrete: secret mixture of manufacturers||Walls and beams||Global|
|–||Reuse of concrete||Walls, slabs, beams, columns||Global|
History Of Concrete (Top Picks)
1. Nabataea traders (ca. 6500 BC)
- Used hydraulic lime to build houses, concrete floors and cisterns
- Limestone is heated to produce hydraulic lime, which is a type of cement
- Nabataea traders live in the regions of northern Jordan and southern Syria
2. Yugoslavia (ca. 5600 BC)
- A 25 cm thick concrete floor was discovered in Yugoslavia (today: Serbia)
- It dates back to roughly, 5600 BC
- Concrete composition: lime, sand, water and gravel
3. Egypt and China (ca. 3000 BC)
- China: mortar was produced from burning gypsum and clay (3000 – 1000 BC)
- China: Walls and floor made from lime mortar were found at the Yellow River (2800 – 2300 BC)
- China: Later lime mortar was utilized in the construction of the Great Wall (ca. 700 BC)
- Egypt: Bricks made from mud and straw (ca. 3000 BC)
4. Greeks (ca. 500 BC)
- On the island Santorini, the Greeks built with the pozzolanic material Santorin, which is highly siliceous and volcanic (500 – 300 BC)
5. Romans (ca. 200 BC)
- Romans introduced pozzolans with hydraulic properties. Compared to earlier concretes with lime, this type hardened under water
- Sources claim that the Romans have properbly learned from the Greeks, which used lime mortar at the time
- Example of a concrete structure: Porticus Aemilia in Rome – 487 m long (193 BC)
- Later, concrete was used to build Roman baths
6. Middle Ages (500 – 1500)
- During the Middle Ages, concrete wasn’t used any more and the knowledge of concrete construction was lost
7. Hydraulic lime (1793)
- John Smeaton found a new method where he produced hydraulic lime for concrete
- The limestone contained clay which was heated until it turned into clinker.
- The Eddystone lighthouse in Cornwall (England) was built with this type of concrete. The lighthouse failed after 126 years due to corrosion of the supporting rocks.
8. Portland Cement (1824)
- Joseph Aspdin from Leeds (England) invented Portland cement in 1824. That’s when he took out a patent.
- This was probably the biggest technological invention of the concrete history, as Portland cement is still the main cement used in today’s concretes
- Portland cement is a mix of limestone (calcium oxide), silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) and alumina (aluminum oxide, AI2O3).
- Portland cement spread quickly across Europe and North America
9. Reinforced Concrete (1848)
- The 2nd biggest technological invention after Portland cement
- Joseph-Louis Lambot patented his invention made of reinforced concrete.
- He built and tested small water tanks and drinking fountains with mortar, steel bars and chicken coop
10. 3D printed concrete (1990s)
- With the rise of 3D printing technology new concrete types are introduced, because the traditional concrete can’t be used as it clogs the printer’s nozzle
- Most manufacturers of 3D printers developed their own “secret” concrete mixture
11. Reuse of concrete
- There are many research projects currently focusing on how to reuse concrete, as its materials were already produced. This saves a lot of CO2 as the concrete element doesn’t have to be produced any more. CO2 will be emitted however through transportation and possible processing.
- Example of one research project – Business Reuse: I was personally involved in this project with my master thesis. I focused however on structural steel elements, but I gained some knowledge through other students who were in the same group and researched reuse of concrete.
Here are 2 interesting videos: Business Reuse 1 and Business Reuse 2.
Concrete has evolved a lot over time, especially in the last 200 years.
And to be honest: Could you imagine a world without concrete nowadays?
We wouldn’t be able to build many of our structures without concrete. Think of:
- foundations for high-rise buildings
- tunnels and underground structures
- nuclear facitilies
To name just a few.
But now I would like to hear from you! What do you think was the most important concrete invention?
Let us know in the comments.
Concrete History FAQ
Ancient civilizations utilized concrete in various ways. The Nabataea traders, the egyptians and in China limestone was used to build floors and walls. The Romans developed a stronger version known as “Roman concrete” that was used in buildings, and baths.
They discovered that adding pozzolan to the mix greatly increased the strength and durability of concrete. This innovation allowed them to construct monumental structures such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon.