People tend to use the terms “cement” and “concrete” interchangeably; however, they are different materials. Cement is actually an ingredient of concrete. Concrete is a mix of aggregates and paste. The aggregates are sand and gravel, while the paste consists of water and Portland cement.
But what is Portland cement? Read on to learn more about this important building material.
An Ancient History
The Romans took concrete to superb heights with structures that remain intact to this day: for example, the Pantheon and aqueduct bridges like the Pont du Gard, in France.
We know that the Romans made concrete by mixing kilned limestone and water and adding pozzolana and ground-up rocks to thicken the mixture. However, the exact recipe for Roman concrete was lost to posterity. And while recreating it became an obsession for many, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a suitable alternative came, thanks to Portland cement.
Enter Portland Cement
Enter bricklayer and self-taught English inventor Joseph Aspdin. Experimenting in his kitchen, Aspdin created a new type of cement, which he decided to call Portland cement. This fine powder was manufactured by burning and grinding a mixture of limestone and clay or limestone and shale.
Although it’s not obvious to modern ears, the name was a shrewd marketing ploy. Stone from Portland, an island on the southern coast of England, had been used in buildings as iconic as Westminster and the Tower of London. In fact, Aspdin filed the patent for his invention as a method to produce “artificial stone.”
A Signature Construction Material
The impact of Portland cement was not evident immediately. However, many inventors began trying to improve Aspdin’s creation. The modern version of Portland cement came in 1844, when Isaac Johnston discovered the high-temperature process to make cement, shortening production time and resulting in a cement with more reliable setting.
Thanks to modern Portland cement, the use of concrete became widespread, turning it into a signature material. Such is the importance of Portland cement that the bronze tablet that commemorates the Centennial of Aspdin’s invention reads: “In memory of Joseph Aspdin… whose invention of Portland cement… has made the whole world his debtor.”
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