A mason lays the foundations of the future

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On October 21, 1824, the English mason Joseph Aspdin received a patent entitled “An improvement of the methods of production of an artificial stone”. Although little is known about the man and his methods, the name “Portland cement” which he invented and used in this patent persists. ASGanesh takes a look at Portland cement, Aspdin and the patent that connects them …

Have you encountered the “concrete jungle” in conversations or in your reading? The term is used to refer to a modern city or an urban area filled with tall buildings, sometimes very populated. With little space for trees or grass, the term also carries the connotation of severely competitive, unwelcoming, even dangerous places.

To someone from generations past, or even to those who now live in villages with the great outdoors, most of our urban towns can look like concrete jungles. And it could also include Joseph Aspdin, an English mason who roamed the Earth 200 years ago and is often credited with the invention of Portland cement.

Portland cement

Portland cement is the type of cement most commonly used around the world today as a basic ingredient for concrete, mortar, and stucco. A mixture of clay and limestone or other similar materials is heated to a high temperature, just before melting. This is then finely pulverized, resulting in Portland cement, which hardens under water.

Born in Leeds, England, in 1778, Joseph Aspdin was the eldest of Thomas Aspdin’s six children. As was common at the time, Joseph followed in his father’s footsteps to become a bricklayer and bricklayer when he was still a teenager.

31-year-old Aspdin married Mary Fotherby in 1811, with their marriage certificate indicating his profession as a “mason”. By 1816, however, Aspdin had his own business in the field and began tinkering with the hopes of growing it.

Patent images.  Joseph Aspdin patent on Portland cement of 1824. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Aspdin-BP_5022_1.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Aspdin-BP_5022_2.jpg Credit : Wikimedia Commons

Patent images. Joseph Aspdin patent on Portland cement of 1824. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Aspdin-BP_5022_1.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Aspdin-BP_5022_2.jpg Credit : Wikimedia Commons | Photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Possessed of ambition and curiosity, Aspdin experimented with a number of cement formulas for years before arriving at the one he patented in 1824. On October 21 of that year Aspdin was granted a patent entitled “An improvement in the production methods of an artificial stone”.

Marketing tip

Aspdin called his product Portland cement, explicitly mentioning the same in the patent he received. He coined this name after Portland Stone, a stone quarried on the Isle of Portland on the south coast of England which was famous for construction work.

Similar in appearance and color and almost as hard when dry, Portland cement closely resembled Portland stone. And since portland stone was used across Britain in high standard buildings, the name Aspdin was a good marketing technique because it linked its new product in people’s minds to an existing product, although established and popular.

Wave? Too lightly burnt?

Even though Aspdin’s patent is vague in some ways, and his product may have been too lightly burned to be what we now call Portland cement, the invention of Portland cement is generally attributed to Aspdin. He certainly gave it its name, something that is still in common use.

When Aspdin died in 1855, Portland cement was not yet famous. It took the work of others to bring it to the form we know now, and its meaning only became apparent then. Portland cement’s biggest role was in the manufacture of concrete, which turned out to be the main building material from the 20th century.

A plaque in Leeds commemorating Joseph Aspdin.

Whether Aspdin actually invented Portland cement will be up for debate. Nonetheless, members of the British Cement Makers Federation and the American Portland Cement Association cemented its place in history by erecting a plaque in Leeds in 1924, 100 years after Aspdin gave “Portland cement” to his. patent.

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