We have all hear the saying "it's as old as dirt," well you could also say "it's as old as asphalt." For asphalt paving actually extends way beyond the 19th and 20th centuries, all the way back to 625 BC. The ancient Babylonians were the first to mix sand and stone with natural tar and form it into a building material. By the early 1700s the use of this substance had spread east to Europe and was being used in a limited fashion for road foundations.
Over a few hundred years, the chemistry of making asphalt mix and the techniques for laying it were refined. In the early 1800s a Scotsman named John McAdam perfected the use of mixing tar with stone and sand for hard surface roads. For a long time asphalt paving mix was called "tarmcadam," or mcadam, for short. Tarmac – the name used for airport runway pavement – is a derivative of this early name. Tarmac is no different than any other paved road, but it has kept its own special name in the aviation industry.
The first use of asphalt pavement in the United States was in the late 1860s. The need for a tough landing surface for U.S. aircraft during World War II brought about further improvements to asphalt technology, allowing it to withstand heavier loads and the punishment of landing large airplanes. The post-war construction boom found this improved pavement being used in incredible volume all across the country. In 1956 Congress passed the State Highway Act, stimulating modern road construction from coast to coast. The rest, as they say, is history.
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