Did you know that asphalt is a naturally-occuring substance? Most asphalt paving companies operating today use petroleum processed asphalt but asphalt can also be found naturally in asphalt lakes as well as certain rock formations. As such, asphalt has a rich history that goes back much further than you might first imagine. 

While today’s paving companies leverage modern technology to handle asphalt paving jobs, ancient civilizations took another approach. Both today and historically, asphalt is a useful material for creating durable, smooth surfaces. Learn more about the history of asphalt in this brief overview.

Asphalt Through The Ages

What is asphalt made up of, and why has it been so useful throughout history? Those answers are both quite connected. Asphalt is a petroleum-like material that exists in both a viscous and more solid state. This means that it can be heated, spread, smoothed, and hardened — and it is these characteristics that make it quite versatile.

Ancient Uses

Asphalt has seen a few different uses by various ancient civilizations who thrived from 3,000 BC onward. From waterproofing Mesopotamian baths and caulking ships to protecting against the erosion of the Nile in Egypt, there are myriad reasons ancient peoples utilized the unique characteristics of asphalt. The ancient Babylonians also used asphalt to pave a road around 625 BC.

Asphalt in the 1800s

In the 1800s, asphalt really started to catch on as a material for road building. In Scotland, both Thomas Telford and John McAdam utilized asphalt to help join together miles upon miles of road. In 1870, Edmund J. DeSmedt is credited with the first asphalt pavement in the United States.

Asphalt in the 1900s

Asphalt really took off with a lot of exciting technological developments during the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1910, petroleum-processed asphalt took the lead in terms of asphalt production as demand for paved roads grew. In the 1950s, the requirements of the Federal-Aid Highway Act necessitated innovations like wider finishers and electronic leveling.

Cars driving through the interstate highway system

Advantages of Asphalt In Modern Times

As you can tell from reviewing how asphalt has been used throughout history, asphalt is an incredibly versatile substance. That being said, asphalt is most commonly used today as a paving material. There are a few reasons that asphalt continues to be one of the most popular paving materials today, namely its efficiency, cost, safety and sustainability. 


In terms of efficiency, asphalt remains one of the most widely used materials for roadways, due to the speed of application and curing time. If you’re paving in very hot or cold climates, the time it takes for asphalt to harden varies. 

On average, asphalt takes between 24 and 72 hours to fully harden. As such, the answer to the question “How long does asphalt take to dry?” is a bit nuanced, but still quite quick in the grand scheme of things. This makes asphalt a very efficient material to use for a variety of projects, regardless of climate and geography. 

The efficiency of asphalt as a paving substance made it the material of choice when it came to delivering on the promise set forth in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Without a fast, reliable construction material like asphalt, the United States wouldn’t have the interstate system it has today.


Asphalt is a cost-effective option for many projects. On top of that, asphalt is one of the most recycled materials in the world—even more than paper! 

How much does asphalt cost? Generally speaking, the cost of paving materials like asphalt and concrete are determined by geography, availability of materials (supply chains) and other factors. If you’re interested in using asphalt in an upcoming project, your best bet is to contact a professional asphalt company


When you think of sustainability, you probably think of recycling soda cans, paper documents or glass bottles. However, one of the most sustainable materials in the world is asphalt. 

When a stretch of asphalt is being repaved, construction workers and pavement professionals can break up and break down the asphalt for reuse. This reduces waste and allows asphalt to be recycled again and again. As such, it is an incredibly popular material for paving hard surfaces.


Thanks to its reliability and durability, asphalt makes for a very safe paving material—contributing to its popularity over the years. Especially as more cars and trucks hit the road, it’s important to have a safe material like asphalt to ensure that drivers stay as safe as possible when traveling.

Asphalt has numerous advantages, both historically and in the modern era. If you’re on the hunt for a reputable asphalt and concrete business in the Pacific Northwest, look no further than AA Asphalting. We have the expertise (and a storied history ourselves) to get the job done right.