Early History of Concrete
Concrete is a mixture of sand, gravel and cement, and its use can be traced back to around 5600 B.C. when the inhabitants of the region we know as Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia used concrete with red lime for cement to pave a few roads.
However, concrete flooring did not come into regular use until 2500 B.C. when the Egyptians learned to mix the material, and 2,200 years later, techniques were perfected by the Romans to make stronger forms of concrete. The Romans also discovered a source of volcanic ash that could be used to make a very durable form of cement, and this is now considered to be the first pozzolanic cement.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the technique for making pozzolanic cement was lost, but it was rediscovered again in the 1400s after old Roman manuscripts were found. This concrete was utilized in the construction of the pier of the Pont de Notre Dame in Paris, which is now considered to be the first major use of concrete in post-Rome Europe.
Concrete Enters the Modern Era
In the 18th century, concrete technology advanced quickly after John Smearton, an engineer in England, began working on a new construction material that could withstand the eroding effects of water. He discovered that quicklime made a stronger and harder form of cement. Twenty years later, James Parker took up Smearton’s work, and he started mixing hydraulic cement that took advantage of natural limestone and clay.
One of the biggest advances in concrete technology occurred in 1824 when Joseph Aspdin, an English bricklayer, created a process whereby chalk was finely ground, mixed with clay and burned in a limekiln to produce the strongest form of cement in history. He patented his new invention and named the finished product Portland cement, which is the primary type of cement used to make concrete today.
Several inventors, engineers and scientists began to fine-tune the process for making Portland cement during the 1800s. It was soon discovered that a method known as clinkering, which requires extremely high temperatures, could produce the strongest and most durable cement, but it was very energy intensive and inefficient until the rotary kiln was invented in 1885.
After Thomas Edison advanced the technology of rotary kilns at Edison Portland Cement Works in the U.S., concrete production became nearly standardized, and it started to be used in a variety of applications, including bridges, streets, rural roads and high-rise buildings. One of the greatest accomplishments of concrete construction in the 20th century was the building of the Hoover Dam in 1933.
The Rise of Decorative Concrete
Ancient buildings made of concrete often included concrete floors, but in modern applications, concrete flooring was primarily used because of its fire-resistant properties. To make the floors more aesthetically appealing, the concrete would be overlaid with hardwood or painted. Sometimes pigments were added to the concrete mixtures to create finished products in a variety of colors. Some concrete mixers developed elaborate recipes to create colored concrete, and L.M. Scofield Company in Chicago created the first commercially produced colored concrete in 1915.
In the 1950s, Brad Bowman and several others began stamping patterns into concrete so that it could be used for purely decorative purposes and to add accents to concrete floors used as pool decks and inside homes. Wood-grain textures and other patterns were produced with latex and plastic stamps, and additional colors were created by etching the concrete with acid.
In the 1990s, workers in Tunisia were told to polish the concrete in a palace, but they accidentally polished it dry. The result of this accident was a concrete floor the likes of which had never been seen, and the process for creating polished concrete floors quickly spread throughout the world.
During the 2000s, several new concrete polishing techniques have been perfected to create polished concrete floors of unimaginable beauty, and these techniques are being enhanced and refined every year. Cheetah Floor Systems, Inc. specializes in commercial, industrial and retail decorative polished concrete flooring.