Thomas Edison was a serial entrepreneur. He invented a lot of products that became widely used, turned into household names, and changed our lives. He is best known for inventing the light bulb and the phonograph, the former changing drastically how we work and live, and the latter having a tremendous impact on the entertainment industry. Or better yet, creating the entertainment industry. Of course all great inventors usually have a few failures under their belt, in addition to their great successes. One of those failures was ore-milling. But Edison was an entrepreneur. Where others saw failure, he saw an opportunity. Instead of scrapping the factory and cutting his losses, in 1899 Edison went on to form the The Edison Portland Cement Company which used the waste from the ore-milling, fine sand, which he had been selling to cement manufacturers, to create concrete. Another contribution to the concrete industry was a patent Edison held for the long, rotating kiln.
Edison became quite enamored with concrete and its multitude of applications. He saw a future with concrete houses full of concrete furniture, refrigerators, even pianos. None of these came to fruition, however, save for phonograph cabinets Edison was able to produce. His plans for whole cities to be populated with concrete houses was never realized because of the cost and complexity of the molds. He did succeed in getting a few houses in Union, New Jersey constructed where they still stand and are in use today.
Another little known, and maybe the most interesting fact: In 1922, when The Edison Portland Cement Company was barely keeping its head above water, it won the contract to build Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. It was completed in just 284 working days, using 45,000 barrels of cement, 30,000 cubic yards of gravel, and 15,000 cubic yards of sand that were mixed by 500 men who produced 35,000 cubic yards of concrete(1,2). The Yankee Stadium that Edison built was home to the New York Yankees between 1922 and 2008. The Edison Portland Cement Company filed for bankruptcy during the Great Depression, soon after building the stadium.
So, Thomas Edison, we hope you are watching now, because your dream might actually become a concrete reality. Production costs have come way down and the durability and customization that Edison was so taken with still exists. Together with the advent of colors, embeddings, and the limitless creativity of those who design with it, a beautiful, comfortable, and sustainable concrete world is not beyond our grasp.
1. Cement, The Edison Papers. March 31, 2010. Accessed September 24, 2011