The History of Asphalt Paving

Look around at all the asphalt in Burnaby and it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago, most roads were sorry, bone-rattling dirt tracks meandering through the wilderness. 

Asphalt paving in Burnaby has changed a lot in 100 years! Join us for journey paved through history...


Let’s take a quick look at the history of asphalt over the centuries:

  • Like most modern construction technologies, asphalt paving has its roots in ancient civilizations—as early as the 7th century BC in Babylon, in fact. Not surprisingly, both the Greeks and the Romans were also familiar with asphalt but were more apt to use it to seal baths, aqueducts and reservoirs.
  • Skip ahead many centuries and we find Europeans discovering huge reservoirs of naturally-occurring asphalt on the island of Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela, in the late 16th century. Again, the main use for asphalt at this early stage of its development was to make ships watertight.
  • The foundation was laid, so to speak, in early 18th century Britain for using asphalt as a road-paving material. This came about as engineers developed techniques for creating raised roadbeds from layered and compacted broken rock and gravel that were stable enough to act as a sublayer for asphalting.
  • Asphalt comes to North America! The first true paved road in North America was laid in 1870 in Newark, New Jersey. The binding ingredient still consisted of natural asphalt imported from Trinidad.
  • And along comes the automobile! Car owners screamed for asphalted roads starting in the early 20th century, creating the first boom in demand. This spurred the development of synthetic asphalt distilled from petroleum. This, along with advances in the mechanization of construction methods, “paved the way” for an explosion of road building in North America.
  • Another boom! After WWII, with the proliferation of suburbs and the passing of the State Highway Act in the US, there was no stopping the asphalting boom.
  • The asphalting industry grows a conscience. Starting in the 1970s, in response to economic pressures, concerns over pollution and depleting resources, much cleaner factories were built and recycling became the norm. The paving industry lost its stigma as a polluting monster and became the single largest recycler in North America—more than aluminum cans, glass and newspaper. More than 95 million tons of asphalt paving material is recycled each year and the US EPA has removed asphalt plants from its list of major air polluters.
  • New developments. Over the last 30 years, applications for asphalt have multiplied. With improvements in quality and methods, asphalt is now being used worldwide in water storage lining, flood and erosion control and as primary liners for sanitary and hazardous-waste landfills, to name a few. The future for asphalt is rosy indeed!

As we’ve seen, asphalt paving in Burnaby has come a long way. Need an asphalt paver in Burnaby? Call us at Custom Blacktop. At Custom Blacktop we’ve been paving the Lower Mainland for over 40 years.

Contact us today for a free estimate!

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