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John Loudon McAdam was a pioneering Scottish engineer who almost single-handedly changed the way roads were built. McAdam’s innovation in using shallow camber, crushed, compacted stone layered roads became the standard for road building worldwide.
See the fact file below for more information on the John Loudon McAdam or alternatively, you can download our 28-page John Loudon McAdam worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- John Loudon McAdam was born on September 21, 1756, in Ayr, Scotland. He was the youngest of ten children of James McAdam, Baron of Waterhead, and Susanna Cochrane, the niece of the 7th Earl of Dundonald.
- McAdam had an older brother named James, who was a captain in the military. Unfortunately, James died when John was seven years old, making him the only surviving male in the Waterhead family line.
- McAdam’s family stayed in their house until 1760, when a new residence was built in Lagwyne. The Lagwyne Castle was located on the outskirts of Carsphairn in Scotland and was part of the Waterhead Estate.
- However, shortly after moving in, the castle burnt down. McAdam was able to escape the fire when the family nurse rescued him. McAdam’s father decided not to rebuild the castle and moved to another castle in Blairquhan owned by the Whiteford family.
JOHN MCADAM MOVES TO AMERICA
- John McAdam’s father poorly managed his financial affairs which led to the bankruptcy of his company, the Bank of Ayr. This resulted in financial devastation, forcing them to sell the family’s ancient Waterhead Estate.
- When McAdam was fourteen years old, his father died, making his life worse. This was when the family thought it was best to send McAdam to his uncle, William McAdam, a successful New York Merchant in America in 1770.
- Under the supervision of his uncle, McAdam quickly adapted and learned to become a merchant on his own. McAdam’s business prospered and eventually co-financed a privateering ship, ‘General Matthew’, which was used during the Revolutionary War in the battle of Savannah Harbor.
- Later on, McAdam married Gloriana Nicoll, the daughter of William Nicoll of Suffolk, New York. They inherited one-third of West Neck on Shelter Island and Blue Point Islip. When the American War of Independence started, McAdam and his family decided to support the loyalist forces, which later became a decision they regretted.
- McAdam’s uncle became an “Aide to Camp” to Adjutant General Richard Maitland of British forces. McAdam also served the British reserves during the revolution and acted as a government contractor engaging in the sale of prizes of war.
MCADAM RETURNED TO UK
- After the American War of Independence, McAdam and his family moved to Scotland in 1783 and purchased an estate in Sauchrie, Ayrshire. Later on, he took part in some local affairs in Ayrshire that included operating the local Kaims Colliery.
- Kaims Colliery is a coal mine supplying coal to the British Tar Company of Admiral Archibald Cochrane 9th Earl of Dundonald and Partners. This enabled McAdam to acquire an interest in the ironworks and mills of the area that produced coal products, including tar.
- The steel manufacturing processes needed the coke or the solid product resulting from the destructive distillation of coal in a closed chamber. During that time, the flammability of the coal gas was not recognized and was not capitalized on by the Earl.
- Cochrane had ambitions in selling the tar to the Royal Navy as a sealant for their ship’s hulls. However, it was used as a copper sheathing instead and became a disastrous investment for the Earl.
- From this experience, McAdam gained strong knowledge for his innovation in road construction.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF MCADAM ROADS
- In 1794 McAdam accepted a commission as a Major in the Royal Artillery Corp. Four years later, he also received a government appointment during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars.
- McAdam’s role was as an agent providing logistical support for the Royal Navy in Falmouth, England. In 1801, he was recommended as a surveyor that changed his life and the world of roads.
- In 1804, after becoming a surveyor for the Bristol Corporation, his experiences with road construction began to utilize McAdam’s ideas for massive improvement to how roads are constructed.
- He began formulating his ideas and published books entitled ‘Remarks on the Present System of Road-Making’ and ‘Practical Essay on the Scientific Repair and Preservation of Roads’.
- In his books, McAdam stated that roads should be raised above the surrounding ground and must have a complex structure of layered rocks and gravel that will be laid in a systematic process.
- In 1816, John McAdam was appointed as a dedicated surveyor for the Bristol Turnpike Trust and started to remake the roads using crushed stone bound with gravel built on a firm base of foundation stones.
- His new roads also had a chamber, making them slightly convex. This was to ensure that rainwater could rapidly drain the carriageway instead of pooling and penetrate the structure.
- This was quickly recognized and became the greatest advancement in road building for the past 2000 years.
- The process was later on called ‘Macadamization’ or McAdam roads.
- McAdam’s method of building roads simplified the process and improved the longevity of the completed roads. He also discovered that massive foundations of rock-on-rock were unnecessary.
- He argued that the native soil should be enough to support the weight of the road and traffic as it covered a ‘road crust’ in preventing erosion of the underlying material. These roads were laid as level as possible with a shallow camber across the structure, making it elevated above the water table. This allowed rainwater to run off into ditches on both sides of the carriageway.
- McAdam also stated that no materials that could absorb water and damage the structure should be incorporated into building roads and that nothing should be laid on top of the road surface to bind them. It was because the road traffic would cause the broken stone to merge into a solid level surface that would withstand weather and traffic.
- McAdam roads became popular around the world. The National Road in United States was one of the first McAdam roads built in North America in 1834. Macadamization also quickly prospered in Europe.
DEATH AND LEGACY
- John Loudon McAdam passed away on November 26, 1836, in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. McAdam’s contribution to engineering and road building changed the world. Although his process has been refined over generations, his basic principles will never be forgotten and still in use today.
John Loudon McAdam Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about John Loudon McAdam across 28 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use John Loudon McAdam worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about John Loudon McAdam who was a pioneering Scottish engineer who almost single-handedly changed the way roads were built. McAdam’s innovation in using shallow camber, crushed, compacted stone layered roads became the standard for road building worldwide.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- John Loudon McAdam Facts
- McAdam’s Profile
- Timeline of McAdam
- Filling the Structure
- Questions about John
- Jumbled Construction
- Cross-Section of Roads
- Specifications of McAdam
- Colored Fact or Bluff
- Significance of McAdam
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