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Biography of John Loudon McAdam Inventor of Tar Road Surfacing

Inventor: John Loudon McAdam

Most 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 the

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

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 Scotland.

          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

Road making with Tarmacadam : John Loudon McAdam

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