Q.: During a conversation on one of our jobs the question arose as to when concrete was first used in the United States? Also, was it used in any other country before it was used here?
A.: Concrete was used by the Romans, but Roman concrete was made from lime, pozzolan and aggregate. John Smeaton also used such materials in 1756 to rebuild the Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall, England, and a number of others independently discovered the usefulness of such materials to make concrete during the ensuing 70 years or so.
Joseph Aspdin is credited with the invention of portland cement, which he patented in 1824. He gave it its name because the product of portland cement and aggregate resembled the stone that came from the peninsula (or island connected to the mainland by a narrow rocky strip) of Portland on the south coast of England.
Portland cement subsequently came to be manufactured in many European countries and eventually all over the world. It was imported to the United States from England for a number of years before the first American plant was built by David Saylor near Coplay, Pennsylvania in 1850. Today there are many companies manufacturing portland cement under many brand names. To be called portland cement the product must meet standard specifications of the American Society for Testing and Materials, the U.S. Federal government, the Canadian government or other authority.
Not all concrete is portland cement concrete. There are also slag cements, modified portland cements and others. The Erie Canal, construction of which began in 1817, was built with concrete made from a natural cement made near Fayetteville, New York.