Thomas Edison's Concrete Houses
Thomas Edison's Concrete Houses
Everyone learns in school about Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb, but what about his other accomplishments? In addition to the lightbulb, Edison filed over a thousand patents in the United States and in Europe. Not all of his inventions were practical, or able to be turned into successful businesses. One such example of this are the Thomas Edison concrete houses.
Edison Portland Cement Company
Around the beginning of the 20th century, Thomas Edison was involved in creating a company called the Edison Portland Cement Company. Thomas Edison had a large amount of very expensive equipment left over from a previous failed experiment, and he decided to try and utilize this equipment by making a cement plant.
Edison was a clever inventor, and managed to make several improvements to the manufacturing of Portland Cement. His cement company should have been a huge success, except for two major problems. One of these problems was that the cement plant was incredibly expensive to operate, and the other problem was there was not enough demand for cement.
What is Portland Cement?
Cement is a building material that was invented by the Ancient Romans. Strong and durable, Portland cement has many practical applications. It can be used to build underwater, and is easier to transport to building sites that traditional quarried stone which is bulky and cumbersome.
The ways that the Romans made cement was a mystery for generations, but in the 1800s many British inventors began to experiment with their own techniques to make cement. In the 1820s Joseph Aspidn discovered a technique made from limestone, which was later improved upon by his employee, Isaac Johnson. The type of cement that they created is called Portland cement because it reminded people of a type of stone from Isle of Portland, England.
Portland cement offered many advantages over the other building materials available at the time, and quickly became a popular choice. One of the most common uses for Portland cement is in the manufacturing of concrete.
Solving the Problems of Supply and Demand
Faced with an expensive cement plant that was costing him lots of money to operate, and a shortage of demand for the cement, Edison knew he needed to come up with a plan. Since the cement was mostly useful to make concrete, Edison needed a way to encourage people to use more concrete, and thus purchase more of his cement.
Edison developed what he thought was a brilliant plan to encourage the use of concrete - building concrete houses for the emerging middle class.
A Brilliant Idea
The concrete houses were sure to be popular, because they addressed so many of the problems of the day. They could be made quickly, and were very durable. The concrete could be dyed colors, so they would not even require being painted. They would not even require separate furniture, because the concrete furniture would be built into the houses.
At this point in history, urban areas in the United States were overcrowded and infestation, disease, and fires were rampant and devastating. Concrete houses addressed this problem because they were insect proof and fireproof. Concrete houses were an attractive housing solution for the population boom occurring in the major U.S. cities, because they could be built very quickly and cheaply.
Not Such A Brilliant Idea After All?
As it turned out, the concrete houses were not as popular as Edison anticipated, and had numerous flaws.
Concrete is made up of aggregate mixed with cement, and in the large structures the aggregate would sink to the bottom of the mold, so it was not evenly distributed through the walls.
In order to pour concrete in the shape of a house, the molds had to be even larger than the houses themselves. This means that the real building project became building enormous and expensive molds to pour the concrete into.
Concrete is very heavy, and can cause problems building second levels or sinking into the foundation.
Additionally, the concrete structures were almost impossible to repair, unlike traditional building materials.