Inventor: John Loudon McAdam
Famous Invention: Tar Road Surfacing
John Loudon McAdam was born September 21,
1756. He was the youngest of ten children and the second son born into
the family of the Baron of Waterhead, so he was treated to a very well
to do life as a child.
As a young man, he moved to New York and
worked for his uncle in his counting house, acquiring a substantial
fortune in his own right.
In 1783, he returned to Scotland and
purchased an estate at Sauchrie, Ayrshire.
That same year, McAdam became a trustee with
Ayrshire Turnpike. Not one to set back and enjoy a
life of luxury while others worked, McAdam took a personal interest in
how the roads were constructed.
He moved to Bristol, England in 1812, where
he eventually became the general surveyor for the Bristol Corporation.
Falling back on an idea which he had developed while a youth, he
invented a method of turning the dirt roads of those days into paved
roads, preventing floods and rain from washing them away. His method
became known as macadamisation, or macadam. What we now refer to as
tarred or paved roads.
John Loudon McAdam
An interesting aside is that the efficiency
of McAdam’s new method of road making, revealed a corrupt system which
had been taking place which involved the abuse of road tolls by
unscrupulous persons who choose to use a large portion of the money
collected to line their own pockets.
McAdam’s three sons and later his four
grandsons followed him into the field of making and maintaining roads.
McAdam himself was offered a knighthood for what he had done in causing
this abuse to be revealed and for the work he did personally in managing
turnpike trusts but he declined the honor. This knighthood was later
accepted by his son James Nicholl McAdam.
John Loudon McAdam died November 26, 1836
at the age of 80 in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. He was on his way
home to his home in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, from his annual trip to
It is interesting that a procedure which he
developed as a teenager was something which he later developed to such
an extent and to such a benefit of society. It has been said that his
invention of tarred roads was the greatest improvement of roads since
the days of the Roman Empire.
Road making with Tarmacadam :
John Loudon McAdam