Thursday Trivia

Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars! 
This week’s question: what is the origin of the related terms for road surfaces—macadam and tarmac?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump (or scroll your mobile) and see if you’re right.
Do you ever think all that much about the roads upon which you drive? I’ll bet you give it plenty of thought when jarred by hitting a pothole in that surface but otherwise it’s just a flat expanse, maybe concrete or perhaps asphalt.
Let’s think about that latter surface, asphalt. Like concrete, asphalt is a material made of chemical-bonded aggregate. Unlike concrete, asphalt can return to its pliable state with the addition of heat. That’s because asphalt is named for the sticky viscous material—also known as Bitumen or Tar—that acts as the binding agent. It’s generally this malleable nature that makes asphalt the material of choice for filling potholes and cracks in the road as it’s almost immediately drivable.
The wonder material Asphalt also goes by another name as well, Macadam, which unsurprisingly, is the name of the Scotsman who is generally considered the father of the modern method of road-making.

From Macadam Company Inc.:

Our company name is Macadam, which, at the time, we thought summarized what we did pretty well, because macadam is another name for asphalt. And we know asphalt. We’ve been paving, repairing and beautifying asphalt for years. Asphalt is defined as: “a mixture of substances with gravel, crushed rock, or the like, used for paving.”
To deepen the history, the word macadam is derived from the “inventor” of the modern paving surface, John Loudon McAdam. Mr. McAdam was a Scotsman who constructed roads using a process of combining “broken stone on top of soil to form angles and create a hard surface.” As the process evolved, builders then added hot tar to bond the broken stones together, reducing dust and road maintenance. So today, you’ll hear asphalt referred to as many things depending on where you live; macadam, asphalt pavement, blacktop, tarmac (a mixture of two words, “tar” and “macadam,” plant mix, asphalt concrete, or bituminous concrete.

So, the next time you head out on the road, whether it be asphalt or concrete, give a little shout out to Mr. McAdam for making the drive possible.
Image: Electric Scotland

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5 responses to “Thursday Trivia”

  1. nanoop Avatar

    Heeee Macademia!

    1. Alff Avatar

      Are you some kind of Macademia nut?

      1. nanoop Avatar

        I was just wondering whether that was the same ‘McAdam’.

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          Different guy. Macadam is named after John McAdam whereas Macadamia is named after John Macadam.

          1. nanoop Avatar

            I knew it!
            Well, I didn’t.