IN: Inspiration

The Concrete Homes of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison’s concrete homes are testament to the strength and durability of the material.

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Thomas Edison may be remembered as the man who revolutionised electricity with direct current and the first electric lightbulb, but the famed inventor filed more than 1 000 patents in his lifetime! Among these were patents for the phonograph, carbon telephone, alkaline battery – even concrete!

Edison’s foray into concrete began when he noticed the sand wastage of his ore milling company. Edison founded the Edison Portland Cement Company in New Jersey (US) in 1899, and went on to patent a design for a single-pour concrete home.

Edison envisioned the concrete house as a solution to urban housing shortages. At $1,200 per house, the solution would give residents the chance to escape from the slums and move into a cheap, poured-concrete residential area. As for the practical benefits – the homes would be fireproof, insect-proof and easy to clean.

Issues arose at the construction phase, however. Edison proffered a design for which the building process used only one moulding operation; this meant that the whole structure – including the floors, roofs, bathtubs and partitions – would be formed from “an integral mass of a cement mixture”. The mould would comprise some 2 300 pieces, however, and whoever built the home would need at least $175,000 in equipment.

Despite these constraints, several homes were built in New Jersey. But regardless of the benefits, the design failed to entice new home-buyers who did not view the concrete homes as a desirable lifestyle option but as a step up from slum dwelling. In the end, Edison Portland Cement Company lost millions before closing during the Great Depression.

For all its faults, Edison’s design for a single-pour concrete house was a precursor of 3D-printed housing. Moreover, of the 86 homes built with the single-pour moulds, 70 still stand – some are even occupied! The walls of Yankee Stadium, built by Edison Portland Cement Company in 1922, were so durable that during the renovations in 1973 they required no maintenance.

Edison’s contributions to concrete are a stellar showcase of the material’s strength. Today, these early homes stand as testament to the durability of concrete construction.

 

 

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