Historical Timeline of Concrete

12,000,000 BC Concrete itself is actually a phenomenon of nature. Discovered in Israel, natural deposits of cement compounds were said to have formed due to reactions between limestone and oil shale, employing spontaneous combustion.

6500 BC

A form of concrete  dating to 6500 B.C. has been  discovered recently by archaeologists in Syria.  Image  is "One of the dead towns in northern Syria."

Dead town in Syria

5600 BC

Earliest concrete yet discovered in Europe along the Danube River in Yugoslavia. Stone age hunters /fishermen mix  red lime, sand, gravel and water to construct floors for their huts.

3000 BC 

Chinese  used cementitious materials to hold bamboo together in their boats and in the  Great  Wall.  The Chinese used concrete in Gansu Province in northwest china. "It was  greenish-black in color, it was used for floors and contained a cement mixed with sand,  broken  pottery, bones and water."

2500 BC

Egyptians used mud mixed with straw to bind dried bricks. Also furthered the discovery of lime and   gypsum mortar as a binding agent for building the Pyramids.

800 BC The Babylonians and Assyrians used a bitumen to bind stone and bricks.  This allowed them to combine both large and small stone objects together.

600 BC

In 600  B.C., "The Greeks discovered a natural pozzolan on Santorini Island that developed  hydraulic  properties when mixed with lime. This made it possible to produce concrete that  would harden under water, as well as in the air."

400 BC -200 AD

Petra (Greek, "city of rock"), ancient city of Arabia, in what is now southwestern Jordan. The stronghold and treasure city of the Nabataeans, an Arab people, Petra is referred to as Sela in the Bible (see 2 Kings 14:7).

Greek City of stone

300 BC

Romans used slaked  lime a volcanic ash called pozzuolana, found near Pozzouli by the bay of  Naples. They used  lime as a cementitious material. Pliny reported a mortar mixture of 1 part lime to 4 parts  sand. Vitruvius reported a 2 parts pozzuolana to 1 part lime. Animal fat, milk, and blood   were used as admixtures  


193 BC

Porticus Aemelia made of bound stones to form concrete.

Porticus  Aemelia

75 BC

Romans  use a pozzolanic, hydraulic cement to build the  theater at Pompeii and the Roman baths. The cement was a ground mix of lime and a volcanic ash containing silica and alumina. This volcanic material was discovered near Pozzouli, Italy, and hence the name pozzolanic  cement.


25 BC

An ancient harbor at Caesarea, Israel was commissioned and built by Herod the Great.   Built using hydraulic concrete to construct breakwaters. Caesarea is located half way between Tel Aviv and Haifa along the Mediterranean in Israel.

80 AD

Roman Army  engineers built Aqueducts to serve many of the major cities of the empire. Shown here  is a  part of the original 56 mile aqueduct between Eiffel and Cologne built by the Romans in 80  AD. The inside measurements of this section are 44 inches high and 30 inches wide, with  approximately  15-inch walls. 

82 AD

The Colosseum is completed using large amounts of Roman concrete.


128 AD

The Pantheon is completed. This 142 ft. diameter unreinforced concrete dome remained the largest spanning dome until it was surpassed in 1913. It is made of aggregates that vary in density from basalt in the foundations, through brick and volcanic  tuff in the upper walls, to the lightest of pumice at the top. 

The Pantheon

After 400 AD

The art  of Concrete was lost after the fall of the Roman Empire. Most concrete construction for next 1300  years used lime based mortars and concretes.


Saxons built concrete mixers in the form of shallow bowls cast  into bedrock. A beam fixed with paddles rotated  about a central post hole. It was human or animal powered.

Saxon Mixers


Joseph  Moxon wrote about a hidden fire in heated lime that appears upon the addition of water. 


John  Smeaton, British Engineer, rediscovered hydraulic cement through repeated testing of  mortar in both  fresh and salt water. He discovered that cement would harden under  water if it was produced from limestone that contained a large amount of clay.   Smeaton "made a real break-through when  he combined burnt Aberthaw blue lias, a  limestone from South Wales, and an Italian pozzolan from Civitavecchia. With this  combination Smeaton produced the first high-quality cement since the fall of the  Roman  Empire."


John Smeaton found that the calcinations of limestone containing clay gave a lime which hardened under water (hydraulic lime).  He used hydraulic lime to rebuild Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall, England, which he had been commissioned to build in 1756, but had to first invent a material that would not be affected by water.  He wrote a book about his work.

John  Smeaton, British Engineer

1779 - 1780

Bry Higgins was issued a patent for hydraulic cement (stucco) for exterior plastering use. He published many different observations and results from his experiments.  He had a veiw of improving the way people composed and applied calcerous cements and of preparing quicklime.


James  Parker from England patented a natural hydraulic cement by calcining nodules of  impure  limestone containing clay, called Parker's Cement or Roman Cement. 

1812 - 1813

Louis  Vicat of France prepared artificial hydraulic lime by calcining synthetic mixtures  of  limestone and clay. 


Maurice  St. Leger was issued patents for hydraulic cement. 


Canvass  White, American Engineer, found rock deposits in Madison, County, New York, that  made  hydraulic cement with little processing 


James  Frost of England prepared artificial hydraulic lime like Vicat's and called it British Cement.


Joseph  Aspdin, bricklayer and mason in Leeds, England, patented what he called portland cement,  since it  resembled the stone quarried on the Isle of Portland off the British coast.  Aspdin's method in producing portland cement involved burning a mixture of crushed  limestone and clay into clinker, then  pulverizing it into powdered cement.


Erie Canal created the first great demand for cement in the US. The construction used cement  made from "hydraulic lime" found in New York's Madison, Cayuga, and Onondaga  countries.

Erie Canal


I. K.  Brunel is credited with the first engineering application of portland cement, which  was  used to fill a breach in the Thames Tunnel. 

I. K. Brunel


Jean-Louis Lambot was the first to use reinforcing in concrete. He constructed several small  rowboats  of concrete, which he reinforced with iron bars and wire mesh. 


The first concrete roads appeared, in Austria first, then England in 1865, followed by other Continental countries  and America. 


William B. Wilkinson, an English plasterer, erected a small reinforced concrete two-story   servant's cottage. He reinforced the concrete floor and roof  with iron bars and wire rope. This is credited as the first reinforced concrete building.

1859 - 1867

Portland  cement used in the construction of the London sewer system. 


1866 three partners, led by Lehigh County resident David O. Saylor, founded the Coplay Cement Company to produce natural hydraulic cement. http://www.voicenet.com/~lchs/museum/cementinfo.html


Joseph Monier, a French gardener, patented a design for reinforced garden tubs, and later   patented reinforced concrete beams and posts  for railway and road guardrails.


The first  recorded shipment of portland cement to the US. 

1850 - 1880

Francois Coignet, a builder in France, responsible for the first widespread use of concrete in  building.


David O. Saylor established the first portland-cement plant in the US in Coplay, PA 

1871 - 1875

William  E. Ward builds the first landmark building in reinforced concrete in Port Chester,NY.  Designed by Architect Robert Mook. 

First reinforced Concrete landmark Building


Earnest  L. Ransom patented a reinforcing system using twisted square rods to help the  development of bond between concrete and reinforcing. 


F.  Ransome patented a slightly tilted horizontal kiln which could be rotated so the  material  moved gradually form one end to the other. 


Henri Le  Chatelier of France established oxide ratios to prepare the proper amount of lime  to  produce portland cement. He named the components: Alite (tricalcium silicate), Belite  (dicalcium silicate), and Celite (tetracalcium aluminoferrite). He proposed that hardening  is caused by the  formation of crystalline products of the reaction between cement and water.


Gyozo Mihailich  designed the  first reinforced concrete arch bridge. The bridge consisting of two  spans of 5 m each, was built in the village of Solt, Hungary.

1890 The addition of gypsum when grinding clinker to act as a retardant to the setting of concrete was introduced in the USA. Gypsum, calcium sulfate dihydrate, retards the curing process before the cement is packaged and shipped. Only a small amount is needed.


George  Bartholomew placed the first concrete street in the USA in Bellefontaine, OH. which still exists. 


Francois Hennebique patented a reinforced concrete building system used in the home at right. Note the  two intersecting cantilevers carry weight of 200 ton tower. Hennebique was responsible for the widespread  acceptance of reinforced concrete. 

Francois Hennebique


 Sears Roebuck offered a barrel of "Cement, natural" at $1.25 per barrel; and they also listed "Portland cement, imported" at $3.40 per 50 gallon barrel.


Arthur Henry Symons  designed a column clamp to be used with job-built concrete forms.

column clamp


Thomas Edison was a  pioneer in the further development of the rotary kiln. 

Thomas Edison


August Perret designs and builds the 25 bis Rue Franklin apartment building in Paris that used what he called "the  Trabeated  system of reinforced concrete." It was studied and used often causing it to influence architecture and concrete construction for decades.


August Perret builds the Theatre Champs Elysee in Paris.


The Ingalls building was the first concrete skyscraper. Constructed  in Cincinatti, OH in 1904, it made use of the Ransome system of reinforcement.

First concrete skyscraper


In 1904 precast concrete was used in the construction of Bradley's Head Lighthouse, a few years later it was used in the construction of Millers Point Wharves, both projects were in Sydney Harbor.  A Brief History of Precast Concrete
http://www.fbe.unsw.edu.au/subjects/arch/5203/95-s1/suen/assign5/ History.htm


Frank Lloyd Wright begins construction on the famous Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois.  Taking 3 years to  complete, Wright designed the massive structure with 4 identical sides so that his expensive formwork could be used multiple times.

Unity Temple


As the concrete industry begins its boom a group at the concrete convention in Indianapolis sees a need for a group to oversee the industry.  The National Association of Cement Users is formed, which will later be renamed the American Concrete Institute.  The groups’ objective is to promote knowledge of the art of cement, while promoting efficiency through teaching and research. http://www.concrete.com

1907 J. H. Chubb of the Universal Portland Cement Company introduced the exposed aggregate method of concrete surfacing. He washed the concrete before it set with dilute acid. This was an innovative step in aesthetic uses for concrete.


Thomas Alva Edison patents a system of cast-iron molds for a monolithic concrete house that forms walls, floors, stairways, roof, bath and laundry tubs, and conduits  for electric and water service in one single casting operation.

monolithic concrete house

1910 - 1918

In 1910 a Norwegian civil engineer named Fougner thought of using concrete to build ships.  It wasn't until 1917, when wartime steel shortages required the use of cement for construction that Fougner's idea was used.
California State Parks. In 1918, a Concrete Ship, the Atlantus is commissioned

The Concrete Ship

1911 With the invention of shotcrete came the ability to place concrete in vertical or horizontal surfaces without formwork.. This process has paved the way for easier placement procedures and for an alternative repair method.


The first patent for a concrete pump, which made concrete transportation easy and allowed  on site mixing.

1914 The Panama Canal was opened after decades of Construction.  It features 3 pairs of concrete locks with floors as thick as 20 feet, and walls as much as 60 feet thick at the bottom. 


Portland Cement Association founded in 1916.

Portland Cement Association


Eugene Freyssinet Airship Hangers at Orly


The US  Bureau of Standards and the American Society for testing Materials established a  standard  formula for portland cement 


Mies van der Rohe proposes concrete high-rises.


230 ft.  Medical Arts bldg. built in Dallas  The tallest concrete  building to date.


Notre Dame du Raincy  , Raincy  France, Auguste Perret

"...The result was undoubtedly the most revolutionary building constructed in the first quarter of the present  century...The design comprised four rows of  free-standing columns 37 ft. high, spaced 33 ft. apart along the length of the nave, and diminished from 17 in. at  the foot to 14 in. at the summit. Being free-standing, and thus unaffected by the normal need  to receive the abutment of intermediate beams of partitions, there was no practical obligation to make the columns rectangular in section, and therefore, despite the increased cost of the form-work, Perret made them  round....[I]t was most economical...in that it provided constant rigidity from every angle, like a tree trunk, and was, as he himself pointed out 'best adapted for a member subjected to compression;...it was more satisfactory optically as a result of the gradations of shadow and constancy of silhouette."

—from Peter Collins. Concrete: The Vision of a New  Architecture, A Study of Auguste Perret and his Precursors by Peter Collins. p163, 202, 203,204, 212.

The tallest concrete  building to date.


Eugene  Freyssinet develops successful pre-stressed concrete.


Salginatobel Bridge by Robert Maillart (1872-1940) is built near Shears, Switzerland. This hollow box, three-hinged arch is Maillart's most famous work. It's 90 m. span is the longest of his bridges. Maillart won the design-construction contract by submitting the lowest bid of 18 other designs.


Eduardo  Torroja, the Spanish Engineer, designed the first thin shelled roof for the market at  Algeciras, Spain. This low-rise dome was 3 -1/2 " thick and spanned 150 ft

1930 Air entraining agents were introduced to improve concrete resilience to freeze/thaw.


US substituted concrete for limestone during federal building projects of the Great  Depression; also used extensively for pavements, roadbeds, bridge approaches, dams, and sport facilities (stadiums, swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds).


Le Corbusier builds Villa Savoye 

Villa Savoye 


Florence Stadium Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1972) Florence, Italy


Schwandbach Bridge by Robert Maillart (1872-1940) near Hinterfultigen, Switzerland. The best known of Maillart's deck -stiffened arch bridges. "It's very thin arch is stiffened by the horizontally curved roadway, and the two parts are integrated by vertical trapezoidal cross walls."  The Tower and the Bridge, David Billington


Pier  Luigi Nervi built the hangers for the Italian Air Force using thin shell construction 


Eduardo Torroja, the Spanish Engineer, designed a thin shell roof for the Zarzuela Hippodrome near Madrid. The 42 ft. cantilevered thin shell is formed by segments of hyperboloids of revolution. The shell is 2" thick at the edges and thickens to 5-1/2 " at the supports.

Madrid Hippodrome


The first major concrete dams, Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam, were built.  The horizontal arch design of Hoover Dam ensures that the great compression strength of  concrete is employed. The immense force of Lake Mead's waters wedge the dam into the mountain creating a very strong structure. 

Hoover Dam


Frank Lloyd Wright  was the one of the first to exploit the cantilever at Fallingwater.



Portland  Cement Laboratories perfect air-entrained concrete.

1945 Germany, Japan, and other countries devastated during WWII saw a need for the recycling of concrete to clean up the streets and for the building of new structures.


Frank Lloyd Wright builds on  Meis' ideas at the Johnson wax  tower 

Johnson wax  tower


Turin Exhibition Hall located in Turin, Italy, Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1972)


Frank Lloyd Wright builds the Guggenheim museum in New York city, made of reinforced concrete 

Guggenheim museum


Le Corbusier builds  Ronchamp 



Felix  Candela, master of the concrete shell,  builds the restaurant at Xochimilco. The extreme thinness of 1-5/8" is expressed in 140 ft. ground plan diameter roof constructed from eight intersecting hyperbolic paraboloid vaults.

restaurant at Xochimilco


Palazzetto Dello Sport designed by Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1972) located in Rome, Italy. A 197 ft. span dome with two sets of intersecting ribs for lightness.


Le  Corbusier builds La Tourette 

La Tourette

1959 - 1963

Construction of the Sydney Opera House.  Stage 1-   Foundations and base to the podium level.

 Sydney Opera House.  Stage 1


Le  Corbusier builds the government complex at Chandigarh India 


Bertrand  Goldberg's twin towers at Marina City marked the beginning of the use of  reinforced concrete in modern skyscrapers  and set the height record to 588 ft. 


Construction of the Sydney Opera House.  Stage 2  -  Construction of the Roof Vaults.

Sydney Opera House.  Stage 2


The use of concrete in the Dulles International Airport and the TWA terminal at Kennedy Int'l Airport placed Eero Saarinen among one of the pioneers in concrete design.

Dulles International Airport


1000 Lake  Shore Drive beats Marina City at 640 ft. 6000 psi concrete in the lower columns was  used  for the first time. 


Place  Victoria in Montreal, ht 624 ft. using 6000psi concrete columns 

1967 - 1973

Completion of the Sydney Opera House.  Stage 3 -   Glass walls, interiors, promenade and approaches. The  dramatic roof line of the Sydney Opera house is an enduring image of Sydney, Australia. The  multiple  performance areas within the concrete peaks are renowned for their exquisite  acoustic qualities.

Sydney Opera House.  Stage 3


First  concrete domed sport structure, the Assembly Hall, was constructed at The University  of  Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign


Lake  Point Towers, 70 stories, 645 ft. 7500 psi concrete 


One Shell  Plaza, Houston, ht 714 ft., using 6000 psi concrete 


Fiber reinforcement in concrete was introduced. 


Brion-Vega Cemetery, Vito d'Altvole, Italy. Designed by architect Carlo Scarpa to be a place of meditation and peace. His skillful detailing of concrete and steel cause a beautiful play of  light across walls  and through windows; creating a landscape of poetic beauty.  


Water Tower Place, 859 ft., 9000psi conc. using superplasticizers.


Architect David Hertz develops Syndecrete (TM)
Developed as an alternative to limited or nonrenewable natural materials, Syndecrete is a lightweight, architectural concrete composite made primarily of cement, western coal flyash (a waste product from coal-fired power plants) , and waste polypropylene fiber from a carpet manufacturing plant (to provide   reinforcing).  It is used in many applications such as: kitchen countertops, sinks, tub surrounds, tile flooring, and furniture. www.syndesisinc.com

1985 Silica fume was introduced as a pozzolanic additive/admixture. The “highest strength” concrete was used in building the Union Plaza constructed in Seattle, Washington. Silica fume, also known as microsilica, is a powder that is approximately 100 times finer than Portland cement. When added to concrete mix, it produces extremely high strength concrete that also has a very low permeability.


The Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa, Florida won the prestigious Presidential Design Award  from the National Endowment for the Arts. Painted yellow to contrast with its marine surroundings, the Sunshine Skyway is one of the first cable-stayed bridges to attach cables to the center of its roadway as opposed  to the outer edges, allowing commuters an unobstructed view of the magnificent bay.

Sunshine Skyway bridge


Scotia  Plaza Building, Toronto, 907 ft.  


One of the world's most infamous concrete structures, the Berlin wall fell symbolizing the fall of communism in East Germany.  The wall was made of 15 foot high panels laced with barbed wire and was over 75 miles long.


311S  Wacker and Two Prudential Plaza in Chicago sets new height record at 920 ft.

1995 Homes are now being built out of concrete using Isulating Concrete Form (ICF).  Styrofoam blocks are built up and poured full of concrete to create a house that is relatively maintenance free.  Due to the high density of concrete with the added layer of foam these new homes have a great insulating system and less sound is transmitted through the concrete walls than through conventional stud walls.  


Petronas Twin Towers,  Kuala Lampur, Malasia, 1476 ft. Visit the Petronas Web Site.

Petronas Twin Towers

1997 Portland Cement Association said at least 104 million tons of concrete was recycled in 1997 in the United States. Late twentieth century sees the development of mobile concrete recycling machines.


As part of the seismic retrofit design of the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge, Ben C. Gerwick, Inc. developed a concept of using precast concrete jackets to strengthen the existing concrete piers. Unlike steel jackets, concrete jackets can be designed to resist corrosion in the aggressive tidal-splash zone for the remaining 100-year life expectancy of the bridge. http://www.gerwick.com/News/98Nov/98Nov1.htm


The Big Dig, Boston 10-lane asymmetrical bridge that spans the Boston skyline. At 185 feet it is the largest cable-stayed bridge and the  first of its kind in the US. It also has a precast tunnel system that will serve as Boston's artery connecting downtown to the airport.


The Oresund Fixed Link will connect Denmark and Sweden.  Consisting of four separate structures; the world's longest combined railway and motorway tunnel, more than 4 kilometers long; a 7.8 kilometer bridge with a cable stayed section as its centerpiece, and an artificial island 4 kilometers long in the middle of the straight where the bridge and the tunnel meet. The entire structure was prefabricated on the mainland and floated out to the construction site in pieces.  The pieces were then snapped together like legos to complete both the bridge and the tunnel.

The world's longest combined railway and motorway tunnel


San Francisco based engineering firm URS Corp. is set to design 17th Street bridge over the downtown connector. The bridge will use innovative techniques in both steel and concrete design.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

2009 ?

China's Three Gorges Dam

China's Three Gorges Dam


-R.E. Schaeffer, Reinforced Concrete, Preliminary design for  Architects and Builders; 1992 McGraw-Hilll

-Handout on Skyscrapers, World Book Encyclopedia

-World Wide Web page: The Portland Cement  Association Online://www.portcement.org

-Steiger, Richard W., "The History of  Concrete," Concrete Journal, July 1995, Publication# J950584.

- Billington, David P., The Tower and the Bridge, 1985, Princeton University Press


Home Timeline

Auburn University Department of Building Science

Professor Michael Hein

College of Architecture, Design, and Construction