Who Invented Asphalt?

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It’s something we have briefly discussed before on the Sunrise blog, the History of Asphalt, but this month since we went a bit deeper into how asphalt is made, we figured it would be a great time to revisit the invention of asphalt. It’s one of the most commonly used materials and has been for hundreds of years, but just who invented asphalt?

Asphalt, or bitumen as it is known throughout the world, has a long history of use as an adhesive and for its waterproofing abilities. As previously discussed, the Indus valley sites such as Mehrgarh dating back to the 5000 BCE, asphalt was used to line the inside of baskets that were used to gather crops.

Elsewhere in the ancient world, the Sumerians used those naturally occurring deposits of bitumen as mortar between construction materials, as cement for carvings and ship caulking, while the walls of Babylon used hot asphalt as mortar (according to Herodotus). Allegedly, there was also a ½ mile long tunnel under the Euphrates river built in 2160 BCE (four thousand years ago!) to connect the two halves of Babylon that was waterproofed by asphalt. Bitumen was used by the ancient Egyptians to embalm their mummies.

Across the pond, archaeological evidence in the Americas show bitumen was used for stone arrow and spearheads and waterproofing canoes, as well as in creating rattles. The ancient Far East saw similar use of bitumen in waterproofing scabbards.

Flash forward several thousand years and its being used across Europe for waterproofing and adhesion qualities, and then in the 19th century it saw its use in paving roads, bringing it to its more common modern use.

In England, the first patent for what would in essence be asphalt concrete came about in the 1830s. Richard Tappin Claridge patented the use for ‘asphalte pavement’ after seeing it used in Belgium and France, where one of the earliest uses was in a 1835 at the Place de la Concorde. Before this era, the thought to use asphalt in building streets didn’t seem to cross the mind of French inventors

So, who invented asphalt then? The actual compound of asphalt, or bitumen, is naturally occurring and the use of it as an adhesive or for waterproofing etc., has developed wherever it was to be found. Asking then who invented it is like asking ‘who invented huts?’ It’s use as a tool was immediate wherever it popped up, and its later use as a roadway surface was developed across Europe in the 1800’s. Whether you want to give credit to the folks first patenting it in England or the group of Frenchmen who laid it out at the Place de la Concorde, or even Professor Edward J. de Smedt who brought it over from Belgium (but not til 1870), the whole process was sort of group developed, just like its original uses.

While we may not have invented asphalt, we have certainly perfected the current process and our certified, qualified, experienced staff are ready to get paving, just contact us and we will get there and get those roadways paved.