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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > The man who invented Tarmac

Radcliffe Road

The man who invented Tarmac

Nottinghamshire county surveyor Edgar Hooley was the man who managed to make road surfaces stick.

A cursory glance at the history books would have you believe that the man behind tar macadam was Scotsman John McAdam.

While it's true he invented the method of crushed stone road surfaces he failed to make the stones stick. This was fine in the days of horse drawn vehicles, but when cars started to become commonplace the surface became inadequate.

For one thing, the jagged material meant tyres often punctured. When it rained, many roads became impassable due to ruts and mud.

Edgar Hooley

Edgar Hooley

A solid job

At the time of his discovery, Edgar Hooley was working as a surveyor for Nottinghamshire County.

In 1901 he was walking in Denby in Derbyshire when he noticed a smooth stretch of road close to an ironworks. 

He asked locals what had happened and was told a barrel of tar had fallen from a dray and burst open. Someone had poured waste slag from the nearby furnaces to cover up the mess.

Hooley noticed this unintentional resurfacing had solidified the road - there was no rutting and no dust.

A world first in Nottingham

By 1902 Hooley had patented the process of heating tar, adding slag to the mix and then breaking stones within the mixture to form a smooth road surface.

Having perfected the operation, Hooley began transforming road surfaces and Nottingham's Radcliffe Road became the first tarmac road in the world. A five mile stretch was given the tarmac treatment and proved itself by being long-lasting, dust and mud free.

Sold on

In 1903 Edgar Purnell Hooley formed Tar Macadam Syndicate Ltd and registered Tarmac as a trade mark.

But he was no businessman and couldn't sell his product. Pretty soon the company was bought by the Wolverhampton MP, Sir Alfred Hickman, who just happened to be the owner of a steelworks which produced large quantities of slag used in tarmac production.

He re-launched the Tarmac company in 1905 and it became an immediate success and remains a major company to this day.

last updated: 22/07/2009 at 11:57
created: 03/07/2009

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > The man who invented Tarmac

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