Asphalt, the underrated innovation


Billions use it daily on roads and on roofs, but Asphalt really does not get the respect it deserves. Concrete too, but everybody loves a cement mixer and I think many boys fondly remember their toy truck cement mixer. However I don’t know any kids with a toy asphalt hot mix street paving vehicle.

“Mommy, I’m sorry I spilled tar all over the dog again….”

They are paving the road behind our house and I’m enjoying the symphony of engineering, construction, and innovation involved. The concrete sidewalk routine was impressive but the biggie with road building is the pavement itself.

I thought the Scot MacAdam invented it but NO WAY.

In fact I bet YOU didn’t know this Babylonian Asphalt fact:

The first recorded use of asphalt as a road building material was in Babylon around 625 B.C., in the reign of King Naboppolassar. In A Century of Progress: The History of Hot Mix Asphalt, published by National Asphalt Pavement Association in 1992, author Hugh Gillespie notes that “an inscription on a brick records the paving of Procession Street in Babylon, which led from his palace to the north wall of the city, ‘with asphalt and burned brick.’”

We know that the ancient Greeks were familiar with asphalt and its properties. The word asphalt comes from the Greek “asphaltos”, meaning “secure.” The Romans changed the word to “asphaltus,” and used the substance to seal their baths, reservoirs, and aqueducts.

Many centuries later, Europeans exploring the New World discovered natural deposits of asphalt. Writing in 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh described a “plain” (or lake) of asphalt on the Island of Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela. He used this asphalt for re-caulking his ships.

Surely this proves that King Naboppolassar really deserves more of a place in history than he currently commands?

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