Between 1890 and 1920 many companies, especially precast companies who produced members for building facades, used colors and stains to make their work more interesting. Some mixed pigment into fresh concrete for a casting; others submerged their castings in solutions similar to chemical stains. Some of these creative and ingenious techniques are described in journals and publications from that era, which can be viewed today at the Portland Cement Association (PCA) library in Skokie, Ill.
The “fathers” of this industry were
- manufacturers of materials for contractors with quality controls in place to ensure a consistent outcome time after time
- developers of tools or systems that allowed others to be involved in the creative process, and
- innovators who developed specific techniques.
Some were in the right place at the right time; others went through painstaking research to develop products and processes. Today the decorative concrete market is growing faster than any other segment of the concrete industry, with hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of contractors. But none of this could have happened if not for the development of strong, durable concrete. It takes highly skilled concrete finishers and an understanding of concrete basics to install work that makes owners want concrete.
Here are some of the people and companies that got us started.
Adding color to concrete
We've known for a long time that metallic oxide colors aren't faded by ultraviolet light. At the turn of the century, many concrete craftspeople were blending pigments to color a specific application. Some kept recipe files for their color formulas used on projects. But to increase the use of color required products that were consistent batch after batch. Contractors wanted color admixtures that would mix evenly in concrete and be permanently bonded in the cement paste. In 1915, Lynn Mason Scofield started a business on Dearborn Street in Chicago that was later renamed the L.M. Scofield Company. It was the first company to manufacture color for concrete. His first products included color hardeners (cement, color, and aggregate broadcast on the surface of fresh concrete to color and harden the surface), colorwax integral color, sealers, and chemical stains. In 1920 he moved the company to Los Angeles, believing that southern California was a better market for decorative concrete than the rest of the country. Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Mary Pickford, and other famous people used large amounts of his products when they built their homes.
Brad Bowman caused significant interest in decorative concrete with his invention. He developed and patented the tools and process for stamping patterns in concrete flatwork. The genius of his work is that others could use his process to install their own creative ideas.
As a contractor, Bowman installed exposed aggregate concrete walls and slabs in Carmel, Calif. By 1950 he began experimenting with ways to pattern his work. He first tried a single wooden blade, then two blades set apart the width of a brick, and finally platform stamps that imprinted several pattern units at a time. His first stamps were of wood, then sheet metal, and finally cast aluminum platforms. In 1970, the Bomanite Corp., using his patents, franchised contractors across the United States to install decorative concrete using this process. Bowman's fascination was with the creative process—a passion that stayed with him until his death at age 90.
In 1956 Bill Stegmeier, owner of the Stegmeier Co., began installing his company's “Cool Deck” process for swimming pool decks—a finish that kept bare feet from getting too hot on sunny days. By adding color to a powder broadcast onto the surface, he achieved an antiquing effect. But it turned out that this “release powder” also kept texture stamps from sticking to the concrete. So Stegmeier invented a latex rubber tool to impart a wood grain texture to fresh concrete.
Bowman's cast aluminum tools were heavy, had a limited life, and printed only patterns, not textures. Jon Nasvik became the first to develop urethane stamps that were light and long-lived. In the late 1970s he built a plastic stamp that imprinted both pattern and texture on fresh concrete. The first pattern for commercial use was a broken used brick pattern. The patterns that followed were used by Bomanite contractors exclusively and were called “Bomacron.” Stegmeir's release powder made it possible to use these stamps.
Around this same time The Disney Corporation was designing EPCOT in Orlando and wanted unusual decorative concrete patterns for the project. It liked Bomacron and commissioned the development of the first 12 to 15 patterns. Today textured, patterned stamps are the standard.