British writers often marvelled at the quality and longevity of Roman roads, wondering how modern engineers and governments could hope to imitate their success. The fascination with Roman roads continues, and an excellent overview by Richard Brushi is available on Medium.com.
In 1906, after founding the London School of Economics, economists Sidney and Beatrice Webb compiled the Bibliography of Road Making and Maintenance in Great Britain. The bibliography is a history of important British writing about road construction and public policy from 1583. It lists several early works dedicated to repair and maintenance.
1697 – Defoe’s Vision
Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote in 1697 in his “Essay Upon Projects” that a properly constructed road was easier and cheaper to maintain if kept in good repair. He proposed a national system of funding, national directors, and county surveyors of road repair. This opinion did not seem to influence public policy to any great degree.
1767 – Homer Recognizes Wear and Prevention
Henry Sacheverell Homer was a clergyman in Warwickshire who wrote on other subjects, including economics and road building. His 1767 work An Enquiry Into the Means of Preserving And Improving the Publick Roads of This Kingdom: With Observations On the Probable Consequences of the Present Plan included a chapter whose title contained the major themes of a preventive maintenance program:
“Of the Causes of the Decay of Turnpike Roads, with some Remarks upon the Defects of the Provisions made to prevent them.”
This short phrase includes several concepts. First, that the road already exists and construction quality is not the issue. Second, decay of the road is continuous and has specific causes. Third, the decay can be prevented. Finally, the preventive steps can be ineffective, so need critiqued.
Homer discussed how overweight carriages and livestock damaged roadways. When the road surface was not homogenous, weak places would break down first. To prevent damage, Homer proposed limits on the weight of carriages and on how many horses could be used in a team. His intent was to prevent damage to the road and to reduce the need for major repairs or rebuilding.
An 1879 register of the Saint Mary Magdalen College contains biographies of notable faculty and staff, including Homer. This biography credits Homer’s work as a major source for John McAdam’s famous method of road construction, saying that Homer’s enquiry was the only work in existence McAdam found had any value, and claiming that McAdam’s system was mostly derived from Homer’s work: “Mr. Mccadam proved its utility by simply carrying out and expanding in his own system what he had learned from that book.”
1819 – McAdam’s Influential Building Method
John McAdam was a civil engineer who invented the method of road building called macadamization. Later engineers included tar, calling it tar-macadam. Other improvements resulted in what we know today as tarmac.
In 1819, McAdam proposed that bad roads resulted from lack of knowledge, poor management, and lack of a method in construction and repair. McAdam proposed systematic repair methods, specifying road camber, size and cleanliness of stones, and depth of surface. He also proposed a management system that included qualified surveyors to manage assessments and repairs. Unlike Defoe and Homer, McAdam was a successful road builder. McAdam’s method became famous and the basis for modern road systems.
McAdam wrote two books about road-making, both of which were published in multiple editions. In the preface to the 9th edition, McAdam directly referenced Homer’s writing in a footnote regarding the width of carriage wheels and the effect on the road surface.
1837 – Road and Railroad Wear Mechanisms
In the early days of railroads, the same construction methods were used for carriage wheels and railcar wheels. Early rails were made of wood, or of a strip of iron on top of wood. In 1837, railway rails were short and made of iron. Steel rails would not be produced until 1857.
William Bridges Adams wrote on carriage design and manufacture in 1837 in a book titled English Pleasure Carriages. His book was mostly concerned with horse-drawn carriages, but he included a chapter on carriages for steam-powered vehicles. This chapter discussed the manufacture of both railway cars and steam automobiles.
In 1837, railways were still somewhat experimental, and there was some speculation that steam automobiles could also be practical. An example of this development effort was recorded by Walter Hancock’s 1838 Narrative of Twelve Years’ Experiments, Demonstrative of the Practicability and Advantage of Employing Steam-Carriages on Common Roads. Hancock discussed road conditions during some demonstrations of a prototype steam automobile. Engine power, road conditions, the number of passengers planned, and the speed that vehicle could attain were all informing the business case for future development.
Adams applied his knowledge of spring systems and wheels designed for horse carriages to rail carriages. Adams made analogies between the design of a macadamised road, and the design of a railbed and the rails themselves. In both cases, the goal was a “continuous equable surface.” Because the rails were short, the analogy with roadway stones was useful. The analogy was also useful because both the macadam road and the railroad had to have a stable, well-drained base to allow the actual surface in contact with the week to stay in place. In the macadam system, the bearing surface was small broken stones; in the railway it was a rail.
In both cases, Adams recognized that the ideal road surface was permanent and would not wear or move. He also recognized that wheel design and carriage design could affect the rate of wear of the road, requiring more frequent repairs. He related the development of rails, beginning with wood, to a laminated iron-wood composite set in granite. The conclusion was that weight and speed were important factors in limiting the life of the rail. He worried that the increasing weight and speed of the locomotives and railcars would challenge the railway’s ability to withstand more severe use.
Adams drew a physical analogy between the design of a railroad and a macadam road. The physical analogy extended to the wear mechanism that determined the physical lifetime of either type of road, and the need for good drainage of both systems. Adams also concluded that operational limits of weight and speed could accelerate wear.
1843 – Burgoyne Combines McAdam’s Method with French Maintenance
Burgoyne’s 1843 work on the maintenance of macadamised roads was drawn from his time on the Board of Public Works in Ireland. The book began by citing the progress made by France’s Corps de Ponts et Chaussées. Burgoyne related that French roads had been inferior to England’s but that maintenance had improved them:
…the Engineers have made great improvements; and latterly, principles of maintenance have been introduced that have tended to put them in a very superior state and at the same time to reduce the expenditure.
Burgoyne argued that road conditions could be improved, by shifting from “frequent patching” to “determined prevention.” Burgoyne focused on the need for drainage and cleaning to protect the macadam surface.
He acknowledged that to focus on prevention, funding and labor arrangements have to change. He described the French system of local road caretakers called cantonniers. The local caretakers cleaned and made small repairs, preventing the need for the larger crews. As a result, the road was cheaper to maintain and more energy efficient.
The original source in the references was a reprinting made in 1849 on the other side of the world, by the colonial government of Van Diemen’s Land, in Tasmania. Burgoyne’s ideas had made a trip of 11,000 miles to be used by a frontier government.
1870 – Paget Extends the McAdam Method to Include a New Maintenance Requirement
A large portion of Burgoyne’s book was dedicated to the use of road rolling to help firm and stabilize the surface of a new macadamized road. Burgoyne argued for rolling as a finishing step to road construction using the macadam method. He argued that a macadamised road was not complete until rolled.
In 1870, Paget compared unrolled roads with those rolled by horse-drawn rollers and steam rollers. His work sought to extend the practice of road-rolling to all British roads, both after construction and as a normal maintenance activity.
Paget’s work contains two sections that record the history of road rolling. One section covers horse-drawn rolling, starting in 1619, with the most important step taken in France in 1787. In this history, Paget criticizes Mcadam for focusing his original work on construction and major repair, while ignoring the method of rolling and the “maintenance proper of good roads.” He says Mcadam’s viewpoint is “…good distance…to a complete method,” meaning that Mcadam’s system provided roads that needed less maintenance, but that Mcadam did not not provide enough guidance on preventive maintenance.
Paget summarized his simple maintenance philosophy:
The method and care by which the road is kept up and the kind of management have great influence. The longer repairs are delayed the greater the proportionate injury; as in the homely saying about the stitch in time.
Paget cited two major pieces of evidence. The main technical resource was research published by France’s Corps des Ponts et Chaussées. Paget referred to six journal publications dated 1837 to 1865 by ten different Corps des Ponts et Chaussées authors. The other important resource was Burgoyne’s application of the French methods of maintaining macadamisation in Ireland. Paget also referred to reports from British district road engineers and reports from Prussia and Hanover.
Paget makes two references to comments on the subject by Charles Vignoles. One is on the subject of road rolling. The other is on the relative economy of the French system of road maintenance. Vignoles was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers at the time, and a career railway engineer. Vignoles’ comments on railway car maintenance in 1870 are recorded in R. Price Williams’ “The maintenance and renewal of railway rolling stock …” So Charles Vignoles, a major figure in British engineering, was actively involved in two discussions of maintenance management of transportation systems in 1870.
Paget’s book was reviewed by an 1870 editorial in the prestigious Journal of the Society of Arts. The editorial discusses the efficiency improvements possible for Britain’s now-macadamized road system.
1876 – Gillmore Applies the Road Maintenance System in the United States
American Civil War General and civil engineer Quincy Adams Gillmore also studied how to improve the maintenance of macadamized roads. In 1876, Gillmore wrote on the effectiveness of McAdam and Telford methods in the United States. He devoted an entire chapter, 10% of the book, to maintenance. He described two maintenance organizational models developed in France by the Corps des Ponts et Chaussées. Gillmore credited the Corps with the first scientifically valid studies of road wear and repair. Gillmore recommended maintenance methods suitable for the United States including specific sweeping machines, labor estimating, organization, supervision, and schedule management.
Gillmore made a case for preventive maintenance. He emphasized preventing defects and made a mature distinction between prevention and repair.
A capital distinction must be made between the [system of maintenance] here inculcated, which involves a constant and unceasing daily and hourly care of a road, in order to arrest every incipient tendency to deterioration upon its surface, and any and every other method whatever, whether by frequent repairs; or only occasional repairs; or by repairs at long intervals. The first only embraces the true principle, that of prevention. All the others are cures.
Gillmore used the word “prevention” in the context of maintenance, nearly using the modern term. Gillmore proved the economic case for preventive maintenance by examining the cases of roads between Lyon and Toulouse in 1833, and between Tours and Caen in 1836. In both cases, the Corps de Ponts et Chaussées implemented a preventive maintenance system that reduced road repair costs considerably. In the Tours to Caen case, the maintenance cost dropped from £978 annually, to £820 for the entire next 5 years, an 83% reduction.
Gillmore also reported that the number of horses required to pull the mail coach between Tours and Caen dropped from 5 to 2, and the number of horses that died from overwork dropped from 11 to zero in the next year. Earlier in the chapter, Gillmore makes a case for the efficiency of roads in terms of the number of animals required to accomplish the same haul. Both American and British writers used the issue of animal power efficiency on a national scale to make the case for better construction and maintenance of roads, in addition to an improvement in animal cruelty.
The case of the Lyon-Toulouse road in 1833 was also cited by Burgoyne in his 1843 work. Gillmore cites Burgoyne, and uses sometimes identical wording to describe the Lyon-Toulouse and Tours-Caen cases.
Before the US Civil War, Gillmore’s army career included construction of several forts. He was famous for capturing Charleston, particularly forcing the surrender of Fort Pulaski by using a new kind of artillery. He was the commanding general at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, made famous in the 1989 movie Glory about Union African-American troops and their role in the battle.
This battle also provides an interesting coincidence for the history of maintenance, lubrication, and mechanical engineering. Participating in the battle was the USS CHIPPEWA, a screw gunboat with a steam engine. The engineer officer was Robert Henry Thurston. Thurston would later become the first professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, and then president of the Sibley College of Cornell University. In 1880, he was the first president of the ASME. He helped form mechanical engineering as a profession and its educational structure. Specifically for the maintenance and reliability fields, his body of work was a foundation for the field of tribology. He also helped popularize the field, promoting the scientific basis of lubrication with the railroad group Master Car-builders’ Association and the journal the Railroad Gazette.
Both Gillmore and Burgoyne were military engineers experienced in fortification and artillery. They both held the rank of major-general in different armies, 30 years apart. Both wrote about the importance of regular maintenance of macadam roads. Both made arguments about the efficiency of animal power and the effect on national economies. Both referred to work by France’s Corps de Ponts et Chaussees to quantify the rate of wear of a road and the payback realized from preventive maintenance.
1879 – Codrington Describes a System of Management
In 1879, English engineer Thomas Codrington summarized good practices in road maintenance management, minimizing repair costs by prevention and early repair of small problems. Codrington referenced McAdam and Telford, reporting that their methods had resolved the “general defects of management” and the “ignorance of those entrusted with the repairs of the road.” Sixty years after Mcadam’s essay, Condrigton reported that the macadam construction and maintenance system had been established in Great Britain on a national level, and that a “regular system of management” had been established. Codrington published a second edition of the book in 1892.
Codrington was himself a general superintendent of county roads, so was a maintenance practitioner. Codrington’s work was not revolutionary in any way. However, his writing shows that in 1879, local superintendents were using the language of management systems to discuss road maintenance. In 1903, Codrington published the work for which he is best remembered, the first comprehensive survey of Roman roads in Britain.
In 1880, the year after Codgrington’s publication, the League of American Wheelmen started the Good Roads Movement in the United States, seeking to align the interests of farmers and bicyclists to provide routinely passable roads nationwide. The pamphlet “The Gospel of Good Roads” https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015068078826 compares French road systems with American ones, using photographs to compare muddy American country roads with excellent French ones. The pamphlet compares the taxation systems in place to fund construction and maintenance with the economic gains of a usable road system.
1914 – Highway Contractor Uses the Words “Preventive Maintenance”
The American Good Roads movement, the bicycle, and automobile changed the relative importance of road building and maintenance, and more public money was spent on roads. In the United States, many road programs used contractors, and several trade journals served this community. In 1914, an American publication called The Highway Contractor noted that:
Where unsatisfactory service has been given by bituminous roads in New York, the causes are to be found under one or more of the following heads:….absence of maintenance, especially preventive maintenance. (pg. 219)
The notable thing here is this early use of the term “preventive maintenance.” This is one of the earliest uses of the term, making road contractors early adopters of this terminology.
1921 – Texas State Highway Commission and the French System
The preventive maintenance concept in road maintenance was further described in a 1921 Texas State Highway Commission manual for establishing a patrol system of maintenance. The state had started a large road building program, and the existing road maintenance programs were not sufficient.
The new maintenance system was to protect the public investment: “…it now becomes imperative, if the millions of dollars being spent are properly protected, that systematic and businesslike maintenance methods be adopted.” The patrol system is closely related to McAdams’ recommended system. However, the author cites experience in France as the source for this system:
“The Patrol System” of maintenance proceeds on the theory that “A stitch in time saves nine.” The patrolman in his daily trips over his section is able to detect and repair defects before damage requiring extensive expenditures occur. The American soldier returning from France was deeply impressed with the success of the Patrol System as practiced in that country.
During the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, road maintenance programs had to a accomodate expansion of highway systems, industrialization, population growth, heavier and faster vehicles, the change from animal to motor power, and competition from canal and rail. Road maintenance systems all attempted to prevent deterioration by early intervention, so that the road systems would not fail and require expensive, disruptive rebuilding. A method and management system for preventive maintenance of roads was recorded by Homer (1767), passed to McAdam (1819), benefitted from research in France (1833, 1836), was adopted by Burgoyne in Ireland (1843), improved by Paget in London (1870) and by Gillmore in the USA (1876). Roman roads were a consistent inspiration. British and American methods benefitted by research conducted by the French Corps de Ponts et Chaussées in maintenance techniques and management systems.
Webb’s Bibliography of road making and maintenance in Great Britain
1914 https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015028646373 (Revised and extended by Doreen Ballen.)
Homer, Henry Sacheverell, 1719-1791, and (Oxford) Parker S.. An Enquiry Into the Means of Preserving And Improving the Publick Roads of This Kingdom: With Observations On the Probable Consequences of the Present Plan. Oxford: printed for S. Parker … , 1767. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/ucm.5327137285 (p. 44, 82)
Magdalen College (University of Oxford), and John Rouse Bloxam. A Register of the Presidents, Fellows, Demies, Instructors In Grammar And In Music, Chaplains, Clerks, Choristers, And Other Members of Saint Mary Magdalen College In the University of Oxford, From the Foundation of the College to the Present Time. Oxford: W. Graham, 1853-85. Vol 6:3 or Vol 3, P. 248
M’Adam, John Loudon, A Practical Essay On the Scientific Repair And Preservation of Public Roads. 1819. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/aeu.ark:/13960/t1kh1fd0n
McAdam, John Loudon, Remarks On the Present System of Road Making: With Observations Deduced From Practice And Experience, With a View to a Revision of the Existing Laws, And the Introduction of Improvement In the Method of Making, Repairing, And Preserving Roads, And Defending the Road Funds From Misapplication.. 3d ed., London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820.
The 9th edition adds an appendix and 1823 report to House of Commons testimony from 1819, and the preface contains McAdams’ credit of Homer:
English Pleasure Carriages
https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89074763533 pgs 293, 301-303
Narrative of Twelve Years’ Experiments, Demonstrative of the Practicability and Advantage of Employing Steam-Carriages on Common Roads pg. 73 https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015063948296
This is an 1849 reprinting of the original 1843 work book.
Burgoyne, Major General Sir John. (1849). Remarks on the Maintenance of Macadamised Roads. Hobart: Government Printer
Paget, Fredrick A. (1870). Report on the Economy of Road-Maintenance and Horse-Draught Through Steam Road-Rolling. London: E. & F. Spon.
Page 8, 18
Journal of the Society of Arts (https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015058423420, pg 851
Gillmore, Quincy Adams, 1825-1888. A Practical Treatise On Roads, Streets, And Pavements. 1st. ed. New York: Van Nostrand, 1876. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.ajr2598.0001.001 pg 126
R. H. Thurston’s collected Railroad Gazette lectures: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433066402128
Anne Conchon, background on French road construction https://www.arct.cam.ac.uk/Downloads/ichs/vol-1-791-798-conchon.pdf
Codrington, T. (1879). The maintenance of macadamised roads. London: E. & F. Spon.
Second edition: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433066366273
The Highway Contractor
New York State Road Builders’ Association, and Connecticut General Contractors’ Association. The Highway Contractor And Road Builder: a Publication for Contractors, Engineers & Officials. Albany, N.Y., 191417. Pg 219
Texas State Highway Commission
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