Cementing Ben Affleck's Place in History

Cementing Ben Affleck's Place In History

Empire building: The Roman army used concrete to build the roads that connected the vast Roman empire. By layering sand, cement, and stone, they created durable roads that lasted long after the fall of empire, itself.

Empire building: The Roman army used concrete to build the roads that connected the vast Roman empire. By layering sand, cement, and stone, they created durable roads that lasted long after the fall of empire, itself.

Af-fleck! Permanance!

Af-fleck! Permanance!


"The promotion and sale of our product means a constant yearly addition to the permanent wealth of the community. In other words, cement is used, not consumed."

—   Ben F. Affleck, president of Atlas Universal Cement and first chairman and president of the Portland Cement Association, 1916 to 1920.


by BRUCE McINTOSH, former VP Communications, PCA | Jan 29, 2016

A century ago, in 1916, the leadership of the then-fledgling U.S. cement industry formed the Portland Cement Association (PCA) “to raise the standard of concrete construction, to improve the quality of concrete work, to increase the quantity of cement used in established fields, and to develop new fields.”

PCA’s original charter still stands— like many of the concrete roads, buildings, and other structures that were built over the past century and are still in active use.

Many people know the ancient Romans used concrete quite extensively. Over the centuries, concrete has evolved into a complex, high-tech material. However, its fundamental benefits — particularly strength, durability and resilience — are valued today more than ever. (Above, the earliest road.)


The precursor to modern portland cement was invented by English bricklayer Joseph Aspdin (at left) in the 1820s. Aspdin pulverized limestone and clay, burned the mixture to form pebble-sized lumps called clinker, then ground the clinker into powder. To make the process faster and easier, Aspdin reportedly used limestone from local roads that had already been pulverized by traffic — and was fined for stealing the limestone! 

His perseverance paid off, and on October 21, 1824, King George IV granted Aspdin the first patent on portland cement — so called because concrete made with it resembled a popular stone mined on the Isle of Portland. 

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In 1872, David O. Saylor built the first portland cement plant in the U.S. near Allentown in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Others soon followed, and by the turn of the 20th century cement was emerging as a construction staple.  

This increasing popularity brought about a serious problem. At that time, cement was sold in cloth sacks. Buyers paid a deposit on each, which was refunded upon return of the sack to the plant for re-use. But return of sacks for refilling was slow and erratic, and they were often in poor shape. Sacks were often stolen from job sites and cashed in for deposits. Railroads complained of poor packaging and labeling. 

Portland Cement sack.jpg

B.F. Stradley of Vulcanite Portland Cement Company wrote to cement company executives calling for a meeting to discuss “the present methods of handling sacks, which are almost universally unsatisfactory” and proposed that an industry group be formed to facilitate the collection, repair, and recycling of cement sacks. Accordingly, in 1902 cement makers formed the Association of American Portland Cement Manufacturers (AAPCM). 

As the industry continued to expand, there were needs for reliable technical information, research, and uniform test methods and standards. In 1916, the AAPCM was reorganized as the Portland Cement Association to address these needs. 


PCA began operations with 53 cement company members, a headquarters office in Chicago, eight district offices, and a total of 121 employees. Promotion and government affairs were priorities right from the start. The year of PCA’s founding was also the year that Congress passed the first federal-aid highway act, setting into motion a network of national highways.

PCA marketed concrete roads aggressively with an advertising campaign in 10 national weeklies, 23 trade magazines, and 59 farm journals. These early ads stressed the value of paved roads for the distribution of food and other products, including the idea that concrete roads provided better fuel economy. 

“Concrete for Permanence” became a slogan that would endure through the 1950s.

Owner of McIntopia Communications, the author is the former VP of communications for PCA, having served there in its Skokie IL headquarters for 27 years, from 1986 to 2014. This article first appeared on PCA's Think Harder.Blog 

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