A History of Polished Concrete

Polished concrete floors are extremely versatile and can enhance the beauty of any room whether it is in a residential or commercial property. While this type of flooring has only recently started to become popular, concrete floors have a long history that dates back thousands of years.

As the centuries have turned, concrete has evolved to become more durable and include a wide range of options that have brought the material leagues from its original purpose so that it can be used specifically for aesthetic appeal rather than for base construction.

Early History of Concrete

Hard surface flooring has an ancient history. Early settlers in the Americas used compacted dirt or dried mud and straw to create a hard walking surface in primitive dwellings.

Concrete used as a flooring material has been around for a long time as well. Scientists have evidence dating back to 6500 B.C of concrete being used in Syria. The Egyptians pioneered the use of lime and gypsum as a binder for mud and straw to create what is considered the earliest forms of concrete. Concrete used for flooring and construction materials peaked during the Roman Republic era. By this time, the Romans were mixing raw materials such as lime, sand, and volcanic ash with milk and animal fat to create a cementitious substance that is estimated to be as hard as modern day unreinforced portland cement concrete. Much like our ancestors, concrete today consists of raw materials, some of which are regional, mixed together to provide a hard substrate. More will be discussed about this later. Diamond polished concrete flooring doesn’t date back to before Christ. 

Concrete Entering the Modern Era

 In the 18th century, concrete technology advanced quickly after John Smearton, an engineer in England, began working on a new construction material that could withstand the eroding effects of water. He discovered that quicklime made a stronger and harder form of cement. Twenty years later, James Parker took up Smearton’s work, and he started mixing hydraulic cement that took advantage of natural limestone and clay.

One of the biggest advances in concrete technology occurred in 1824 when Joseph Aspdin, an English bricklayer, created a process whereby chalk was finely ground, mixed with clay and burned in a limekiln to produce the strongest form of cement in history. He patented his new invention and named the finished product Portland cement, which is the primary type of cement used to make concrete today.

Several inventors, engineers and scientists began to fine-tune the process for making Portland cement during the 1800s. It was soon discovered that a method known as clinkering, which requires extremely high temperatures, could produce the strongest and most durable cement, but it was very energy intensive and inefficient until the rotary kiln was invented in 1885.

After Thomas Edison advanced the technology of rotary kilns at Edison Portland Cement Works in the U.S., concrete production became nearly standardized, and it started to be used in a variety of applications, including bridges, streets, rural roads and high-rise buildings. One of the greatest accomplishments of concrete construction in the 20th century was the building of the Hoover Dam in 1933.

The Beginning of Decorative Concrete

Ancient buildings made of concrete often included concrete floors, but in modern applications, concrete flooring was primarily used because of its fire-resistant properties. To make the floors more aesthetically appealing, the concrete would be overlaid with hardwood or painted. Sometimes pigments were added to the concrete mixtures to create finished products in a variety of colors. Some concrete mixers developed elaborate recipes to create colored concrete, and L.M. Scofield Company in Chicago created the first commercially produced colored concrete in 1915.

In the 1950s, Brad Bowman and several others began stamping patterns into concrete so that it could be used for purely decorative purposes and to add accents to concrete floors used as pool decks and inside homes. Wood-grain textures and other patterns were produced with latex and plastic stamps, and additional colors were created by etching the concrete with acid.

In the 1990s, workers in Tunisia were told to polish the concrete in a palace, but they accidentally polished it dry. The result of this accident was a concrete floor the likes of which had never been seen, and the process for creating polished concrete floors quickly spread throughout the world.

During the 2000s, several new polishing techniques have been perfected to create polished concrete floors of unimaginable beauty, and these techniques are being enhanced and refined every year.

Polished Concrete Today

Polished concrete originated as an industrial floor surfacing and intuitive contractors transformed it into an extremely ornate decorative flooring system. Today, polished concrete is found in almost every market. Industrial, commercial, residential, retail, education, and health care are just a few of the markets that regularly take advantage of the performance aspects of polished concrete.

Concrete polishing is different from other types of flooring systems requiring polishing contractors to be totally vested in understanding the processes and equipment in order to be successful. Most flooring systems are manufactured in a controlled environment, transported to the job site, for installation. Even the most closely related to polished concrete-terrazzo flooring- is produced using consistent building materials (special aggregates, glass, divider strips, etc.) to produce
an appropriate end product. Polished concrete is a process of using a unique combination of science and skill to transform an existing concrete substrate into a predetermined aesthetic flooring system intended to provide a specific set of performance values. 

ref. (American Society for Concrete Contractors), (Wikipedia)