The History of Cement and Concrete
Cement and concrete have a long and illustrious history. From the Ancient Egyptians to modern buildings, both have served as materials for the most astonishing of construction projects. This five-part series tracks how the materials have developed over time.
Part 3: The invention of reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete – or ferroconcrete – was the next stage in the develop of concrete and cement as building materials. Concrete is a combination of cement with sand, water and aggregate, or crushed stone. Because it is weak when stretched, concrete was not the ideal building material for many structures. Reinforced concrete sought to answer this challenge. It was developed in the nineteenth century as a way to strengthen the building material, with steel rods, bars or mesh embedded within it. This combination helps to absorb tension created by wind, earthquakes, vibrations and other forces.
Credit is usually given to Joseph Monier who received a patent in 1867. Monier was a Parisian gardener who experimented with the approach in his garden pots. Others attribute the invention to W.B. Wilkinson who was a plasterer from Newcastle, England. Wilkinson’s method inserted straightened steel barrel hoops into wet concrete. Whatever the case, Monier exhibited his invention at the Paris Exposition in 1867 and promoted its use for floors, arches and pipes.
Use of this reinforced concrete became widespread, first in Europe and then in the United States, soon becoming one of the world’s most common building materials. The method was even used to create vast structures such as the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams.