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The History of Asphalt

Slag Seal 2013 003Centuries ago roads were little more than well-traveled trails. Later roads were made with stones or wood. None of these materials offered the smoothness that asphalt provides.

Initially, asphalt was procured from asphalt lakes, which were created when underground bitumen seeped to the earth’s surface and accumulated. Asphalt was first used by ancient civilizations for ship caulking, waterproofing, basket lining, embalming mummies, and as an adhesive to bind bricks.

People recognized that the uniformity of asphalt and its ability to retain its surface texture in adverse weather made it a superb paving material. During the mid-1700s, American and European builders and engineers began exploring using asphalt for road construction. Three Scottish men influenced the way asphalt paving is constructed today. Thomas Treford identified the importance of ground preparation. John McAdam formulated a method of tightly packing stones, and John Metcalf created a construction method that enhanced drainage. During the middle 1800s, Edmund DeSmedt constructed the first asphalt road in America.

Asphalt’s ease of use and durability made it appealing for construction, and technology began to influence the installation process. By 1907, most asphalt was mixed from man-made composites instead of natural material. In 1854, the French began using mechanical mixers, but asphalt preparation still took hours. In 1870, the first asphalt production plant opened in America. In the early 1900s, better mixers were created. Throughout the years, other advances have refined asphalt construction.

Today, asphalt is the most popular material for road construction, and paving technology continues to improve. Nevertheless, the best technology still requires knowledgeable asphalt specialists. Call Fahrner Asphalt at 800-332-3360, or use our online form and ask for a quote.

In Wisconsin, Minnesota, Upper Michigan, and Iowa, we can help you with all aspect of asphalt maintenance, including infrared asphalt repair and patching, asphalt sealcoating, parking lot striping and pavement marking, and tennis courts!


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