A Brief History of Asphalt Paving

February 3, 2020

Asphalt is ubiquitous in our modern paving world. You can find it being used for city roads, major highways, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts and so much more. While the process of asphalt paving might seem like a very modern endeavor, you may be surprised to know that it actually is a process that dates back thousands of years. The technology has, of course, come a long way since then, but the idea is nothing new—in fact, it’s far from it.
Here’s a brief history of asphalt paving from a paving contractor in Nokesville, VA.

Ancient history

As stated above, you can trace the history of asphalt paving back thousands of years, to ancient Mesopotamia, which is considered by many historians to be the first true large-scale civilization in human history. While most of today’s asphalt is manufactured, it’s also found naturally in lakes, or in rock as a combination with materials like limestone and sand.

Those Mesopotamians regularly used asphalt as a means of waterproofing their water tanks and their temple baths. Later on, the Phoenicians would use asphalt to caulk the seams of their boats, which would be used by merchants. As the technology continued to evolve, the Egyptians took note and added some tweets of their own, using asphalt as a sort of natural mortar for rocks they laid along the banks of the Nile, marking one of the world’s first extensive erosion control systems. According to tradition, even baby Moses’s basket was waterproofed with asphalt, allowing him to float down the river without the basket getting waterlogged.

These smaller-scale uses of asphalt eventually evolved to the use of asphalt as a road building material for the very first time in approximately 625 B.C. in Babylon. The ancient Greeks and Romans would then continue to use asphalt in all of the ways described above.

Modern innovations

In 1824, a major milestone occurred in the usage of asphalt for roads. Workers in Paris used large blocks of natural asphalt to pave the wide boulevard of the Champs-Elysees, marking the first time this sort of rock was used for a road.

After some research, what we now know as modern road asphalt was invented in 1870 at Columbia University by Professor Edward J. de Smedt, an immigrant from Belgium. It was known as “sheet asphalt pavement” and “French asphalt pavement.” It was used for the first time in Newark, New Jersey on William Street. He eventually would go on to create a maximum density road asphalt that he termed “well graded,” which was to be used in 1872 in Battery Park and on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Today’s asphalt comes from the processing of crude oils—the remainder of the crude in the refining process gets put into asphalt cement. The material features a binder and a mineral aggregate mixed together, which then gets applied in layers and compacted.

For more information about the history of asphalt and its usage in modern and ancient times, contact a paving contractor in Nokesville, VA at Paveco Inc. today.

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