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The Man Who Invented Tarmac

Edgar Hooley was nothing less than a county council surveyor when he stumbled across a real lightbulb moment. Many people still believe the man behind the invention of tarmac was Scotland’s own John McAdam. But Mr Hooley got in there first.

John McAdam

John Loudon McAdam

McAdam – the man behind the Tar Macadam Empire – was indeed the first man to invent an actual method of stone road surfaces made from crushed rock and stones. But his shortfall was that the stones did not stick.

When a road surface has loose stones, it was adequate enough in the days when there were more horse drawn carriages than cars. However, the car quickly became the vehicle of choice and horse drawn transport quickly faded out.

This crushed stone road surface was becoming a nightmare for early car owners. Tyres would often puncture, ruts and divots formed on the surface and after a heavy downfall of rain the surfaces ended up becoming unnavigable. The early cars did not have a great deal of horse power, so often struggle to even get through the mud and divots that destroyed the road surface.

There was a need to look at road surfaces, as right from the beginning of the 20th century it was becoming clear the car would be king of the road. Edgar Hooley came across his discovery purely by chance which ended up becoming one of the most useful inventions for tarmac roads and tarmac driveways.

Edgar Hooley

Edgar Hooley

In 1901, Hooley was walking through an industrial site in Derbyshire, England. As he strolled near to an ironworks he noticed a smooth stretch of road. He had been informed by locals that some barrels of tar had fallen off the back of a dray delivery and burst open.

Some of the locals then poured waste slag gathered from the local burners to cover up the unsightly mess. However, the unintentional route had solidified the surface and the “road” had no rutting or dust formation.

Hooley quickly patented the concept of heating tar, applying slag to the mixture and breaking up stones to create a viable road surface. He pioneered the world’s first tarmac road in Nottingham. The five-mile stretch of Radcliffe Road was built using tarmac and proved to be durable, free from dust and dirt and lasted a very long time.

By 1903, Hooley created Tar Macadam Syndicates Ltd. He even registered the word “tarmac” and trade marked the name. In 1904, the business was sold to a local MP, Sir Alf Hickman, a steel company owner that produces vast quantities of slag.


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