After food and clothing, shelter is the next priority item for humans. Since its evolution, mankind had been pursuing a relentless search for viable building materials for securing a stable shelter. The history of mankind traced through its ancient civilizations and the track record of the past two millennia will show that Man had been using different types of materials for dwellings to provide him shelter from sun, rain and wind and a home for his family. The building materials used from Stone Age to the Bronze Age in the progressive march of human civilisation ranged from stone or wood, cemented with mud or any other naturally occurring cementing materials (volcanic ash – pozzolan of Italy, natural tuff- Trass of Germany, diatomaceous earth and many others in different countries), to semi-processed materials like lime, burnt clay. With the march of civilization, better binding materials like plastic clay, lime in combination with natural gypsum or in combination with sand (lime mortar), burnt clay (surkhi), burnt gypsum (plaster of Paris) and powdered naturally occurring rocks like volcanic ash came to be used in different places. But all these binding materials were not adequate to provide high strength and long-term durability in constructions.
The invention of Portland cement brought about a landmark change and provided a satisfactory answer to mankind’s quest for a strong and durable binder for constructions. The patent on Portland Cement by Joseph Aspdin in 1824 and subsequent developments have resulted in the cements as we know today. Indeed from the latter half of the 19th century, Portland cement has emerged as a leading binding material and continues to enjoy its pre-eminent position amongst the various cementing materials to this day. Cement ranks second in volume among the industrial products manufactured in the world.
The presence of Portland cement as binding material led to the development of plain cement concrete (PCC) and subsequently reinforced cement concrete (RCC). It now became possible to construct high-rise buildings, sky scrapers, large dams, reservoirs with less consumption of building materials and much higher strength. The use of RCC became very popular from the beginning of 20th century. The advent of concrete, especially reinforced concrete, significantly replaced traditional construction materials, such as steel, stone, wood and bricks. This had made concrete the most widely used man-made product and second only to water as the world’s most heavily consumed substance. The widespread use of concrete boosted cement demand spectacularly throughout the world during the last one hundred years. This in turn led to innovations in the manufacturing technology, storage, handling and distribution techniques, not to speak of the utilisation of cement, thus giving birth to the modern cement and construction industries.
There are numerous varieties of cement used today with numerous applications. Click here to find out about the different varieties of cement.