Concrete blocks began as sunbaked clay bricks in ancient societies. The modern concrete block was invented in the mid-1800s and revolutionized building the world over.
Beautiful and masterful examples of masonry can be found in most ancient cultures as well as in the modern world. The Pyramids have lasted millennia, as has the Coliseum in Rome. The Great Wall of China still draws thousands of tourists yearly and can even be seen from space. The evolution of bricks and concrete blocks is the backbone of historical and modern architecture alike. The feats of masonry have survived fires, earthquakes and time and most feature artistic detail even current technologies have trouble mimicking. Despite not having lasers or heavy machinery, ancient masons created complex and durable buildings that influenced architecture for centuries.
The predecessor to the modern concrete block is the sunbaked clay brick, which is coincidentally man’s oldest manufactured product. This old type of brick has been used for 6,000 years. To help maintain the integrity of the rectangular shape, masons added grass or straw to the clay mix. In 4,000 BCE, manufacturers streamed lined the brick’s shape and started firing them in kilns. This vastly improved the durability of the product as is evidenced by the various ruins of ancient civilizations. While concrete has replaced the sunbaked clay, some regions still use the method to build durable low-cost housing.
Concrete as the modern world knows it was first made in wooden frames in the early 1800s. Initially the material was dried and laid like brick with mortar. The first house to be made entirely of concrete blocks was built in New York during 1837. The inventor credited with the modern formula of concrete is an Englishman named Joseph Aspidin. He called it Portland cement after a type of stone native to the Isle of Portland. Joseph Monier invented reinforced concrete, which uses embedded metal, in 1849 and received a patent in 1867. Following these events, concrete began to replace other building materials for personal and commercial properties.
The cost of Portland cement fell as newly invented machines filled factories and shortened the manufacturing process. Builders responded to the pressure of building fire and weatherproof housing for investors and homeowners. Concrete blocks accomplished that goal and became the material of choice for many builders. Concrete structures are still very common especially for commercial and government buildings. These days even cheaper materials like dry wall are used for housing developments, but the foundations are still predominately concrete blocks and brick. Some theorists are now speculating whether the ancient Egyptians invented concrete, but while this is interesting, sufficient evidence has not been produced.
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