Of all inventions of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison, which is known all over the world, there is an invention that, although not very successful, has an important meaning to the construction industry today, which is precast concrete.
By the end of the 19th century, Edison, like many businessmen and builders at the time, greatly appreciated the performance of cement. Edison believes that cement or precast concrete can be the answer to all housing problems. So he decided to improve and turn cement into an even better material.
Thomas Edison demonstrates a model of a concrete house.
Edison coming to the cement business was a coincidence. For 10 years, Edison failed to crush iron ore and sold all the iron ore waste to cement factories. At the time, Edison tried to maintain the factory’s business using stock from General Electric.
This approach, although quite successful, cannot last long. Edison realized that he was wasting effort in vain. In the end, Edison decided to switch to cement production instead of selling iron ore waste to competitors.
In 1899, Edison founded the Edison Portland Cement Company and built a large-scale factory in western New Jersey, including a huge and almost largest rotary kiln in the world at the time. Within 10 years, Edison and his company became the 5th largest cement manufacturer in the world. Edion’s research team is constantly improving the cement manufacturing process better and Edison holds the patent for those innovations. So far, Edison holds 49 patents related to the cement production process.
His dream is to one day produce a series of cheap concrete houses. He patented a process of building a house with prefabricated concrete blocks instead of pouring one floor at a time. Accordingly, concrete will be poured into large wooden molds for forming. Even outside of walls and floors, he wanted every structure and interior in the house like bathrooms, toilets, sinks, cabinets, beds and even refrigerators and pianos to be made of concrete.
Edison’s patent states: “The goal of my patent is how to build a cement mixed building with a single concrete block molding operation. All parts of It consists of facades, roofs, partitions, bathtubs, floors, … can be made from an inseparable concrete block.
This invention can be applied to any type of building but I plan to use it for housing construction, including stairs, decorative ceilings, furniture, etc. formed by a precast concrete block and attached to the main house. Such a house is certainly very hard to demolish. “
Although Edison’s ambition is considered by many to be crazy. However, to prove to the world that such ambition was possible, he tried to shed two experimental buildings at the home of a gardener and a garage in Glenmont mansion in New Jersey in 1910.
The house is being built with prefabricated concrete blocks.
He even announced that he would donate all of this patent information to architects and construction contractors, regardless of profit.
Edison’s statement then caught the attention of philanthropist Henry Phipps. He also suggested using concrete houses to solve housing problems in the city. New York Phipps even announced it would build a city for working-class families using Edison’s concrete casting technique. However, when building, Edison was unable to provide enough volume as planned.
It was then that Edison realized the unreality of his dream. One of the main technical problems of such one-off houses is the complexity of the molds. Each house needs more than two thousand precast concrete molds and they must be accurately and carefully disassembled to build the next house.
The process is actually quite cumbersome and complicated. Another problem is how to pour concrete the most smoothly. The challenge for the engineers was to create a mixture that was liquid enough to flow into every corner of the mold. But it also needs to be thick enough to condense the aggregate in the cement mixture and not let them settle to the bottom due to gravity.
Despite numerous problems, Edison managed to build a few houses in Union and Montclair, New Jersey, and they still exist today.