Today, many fields of technology are taking massive leaps ahead of their predecessors. Each day of the new decade is riddled with innovation, optimization, and the implementation of new inventions. Sometimes keeping up with all these technological advancements can be dizzying. As wonderful as these modern amenities are, taking a glimpse into the past can be a refreshing deviation from the status quo. Also, having a respect for history, and the knowledge of what came before you, can be an educational and inspirational experience. 

While it is traditionally accepted that the Roman empire built the world’s first roads, it’s not entirely true. Although the Romans certainly exhibited the most extensive and sophisticated road systems, it was actually the ancient Mesopotamians who have the earliest examples of what we would consider “roads.”

The Roman empire was however, the first to have a connected, paved, road system. The popular phrase “All Roads Lead to Rome” wasn’t an exaggeration. The Roman roads were often stone-paved and cambered for drainage ditches. This at the time was an architectural and technological marvel of the modern world. The Roman Roads were built with such precision that many of them are still intact and in use today. 

The History of Paving 1

The roads which are being built today are made from a bituminous material called asphalt or McAdam. Before we move on let’s learn about the types of blacktop pavement we are talking about…

The History of Paving 2

Bitumen – a black, viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.

Asphalt –  a mixture of dark, bituminous pitch with sand or gravel, used for surfacing roads, flooring, roofing, etc.

Macadam – broken stone of even size used in successively compacted layers for surfacing roads and paths, and typically bound with tar or bitumen.

Two Scottish engineers of the early 1820’s Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam are credited as the first modern road paving experts. John Loudon McAdam, being the most innovative thinker in the road construction industry at the time and the the earliest blacktop road paver circa 1823. McAdam’s influence on the industry was indelible, which is why even today blacktop pavement in America is often referred to as macadam. In memory of the finest mind in roadway construction and design.

The History of Paving 3

The most used pavement in America is currently the tar based pavement known as Asphalt. Asphalt is the culmination of many years of research, trial & error, and altering previously common paving techniques. With the addition of tar the paving industry was able to keep the small bits of crushed rock adhered together for longer periods of time and with less dust byproduct. 

Next time you go out for a drive, take a moment to think about how far our road system has come, how just a few generations ago, America was using dirt roads and carriages. Traveling 10 miles on the roads of yesteryear could take 6 or more hours and was an incredibly arduous feat for children and the elderly. Now, we have smoothly paved roads and comfortable automobiles which can take us hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye. Let us be thankful for all of the great minds throughout the years who have enabled us to have such a safe and successful road system!