It is used all over the world in its millions of square miles, walked and driven on every day by billions of people. But where exactly was tarmac invented and who is responsible for such a widely used material? This article will look into the origins of tarmac and detail where it came from and how it reached its current level of ubiquity.
The full name of tarmac is actually tarmacadam, which is derived from the name of the man who originally created the method of using crushed stone road surfaces, John McAdam. However, despite his innovation, he wasn’t able to create a surface where the stones stick together – that was done by Edgar Hooley, a surveyor for Nottinghamshire County.
He happened upon the discovery by accident – he was walking in Denby, Derbyshire, in 1901, where he discovered a smooth stretch of road. He asked the locals what happened, and the explanation was that a barrel of tar had burst on the road, and waste slag had been poured on it to cover it up. This cover-up method actually smoothed and solidified the road, with no dust and rutting, which was a common problem in that era.
By 1902, and after a year of working on this method, Hooley had patented the process of adding slag to heated tar, and breaking stones within the mixture to create a smooth, solid surface. After some tweaking and fine-tuning, Hooley turned Radcliffe Road in Nottingham into the world’s first tarmac road, covering five miles of it with his patented mixture.
In 1903, he formed Tar Macadam Syndicate with the aims of selling his creation, but he was unsuccessful and the business was sold to Sir Alfred Hickman, the MP for Wolverhampton. Sir Hickman owned a steelworks that produced the slag that was used in the production of tarmac, and he relaunched the company in 1905, with incredible success – it still remains a major business 111 years later.
In the present day, Tarmac is used quite literally by the truckload – it has revolutionised a number of industries, from construction to transport, and it is a testament to the quality and genius of Edgar Hooley that it is still used today. Although he may not have reaped the financial rewards of his creation, it is certain that his work has had a revolutionary impact on the world.
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