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On this day in history in 1836, died John Loudon McAdam.
McAdam was a banker and an engineer who invented the road building technique of macadamisation.
McAdam was born on September 21st 1756 at Ayr, the son of James McAdam of Waterhead, and Susanna Cochrane of Dundonald, both members of the minor nobility. He was educated at McDoick’s School of Maybole until he was obliged to leave at the age of fourteen, when the family business, The Bank of Ayr, collapsed and his father died as consequence of the stress of business failure. McAdam was given over to the care of his uncle, a banker of New York City who gave him employment in his counting house.
McAdam invested in merchant shipping, advancing loans for ventures and taking a share of the profits. By the time the American Revolution occurred in 1776, McAdam had amassed a considerable fortune. During the Revolutionary War, he sided with the Loyalists, but when the Colonies achieved independence, the American government seized his assets. McAdam returned home with his wife and family, still having sufficient deposits in European banks to purchase a small estate in Sauchie, Ayrshire.
His experiences in managing the estate led him to consider the poor state of the dirt tracks, which passed for roads and how road construction might be improved. He devised and implemented a method of raising the road surface from the outlying land by a solid bank of large stones surmounted by a compressed layer of smaller stones and gravel, cambered to allow drainage. This method became known as macadamisation, or in brief macadam.
In 1798, McAdam received a government appointment to improve the road surfaces in Falmouth, Cornwall. In 1815, he was assigned the job of surveyor general of the Bristol roads and in 1816, published the sum total of his experience in Remarks on the Present System of Road Making. After a Parliamentary enquiry of 1823, into the problems of British roads and their inadequacy to fill the needs of the Industrial Revolution, McAdam was appointed Surveyor General of all British roads. The macadam method quickly spread all over the network of British roads and was taken up extensively in America and Europe. Modern road construction reflects the macadam method, except for the introduction of tar in the Twentieth Century. This process is known as tar macadam or tarmac.
McAdam died on 26th November 1836, and was buried near his home in Moffat. [Moffat Cemetery, Edinburgh Road, Moffat, Ayrshire, DG10 9RR]
People who have had things named after them
McAdam, John. Autobiography of John McAdam. [Scottish History Society]
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