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From Wooly Mammoth to Metal: A Brief History of Roofing

Roofing has come a long way in the last 40,000 years. The first known roofing material was a large wooly mammoth skin dating back to Siberia around 40,000 BC. Since that time, the materials and construction of roofing have developed along with the construction of bigger, more sophisticated dwellings.

As our ancestors were of the nomadic sort, shelters were made from materials they could find within their surroundings. This led to the advent of sod and thatch roofing. A process by which the patches of earth and grass were laid on the tops of rudimentary dwellings.

The thatching process was slightly more advanced in that grass and reeds were woven together to form a slightly more solid covering. Unfortunately these types of coverings were not particularly weather proof and also became an extreme fire hazard.

Roofing Upgrades

As early as 10,000 BC, scientist have noted the use of clay tiles in China, a material thought to be fireproof and more weather and vermin resistant. This trend eventually spread to Egypt, Greece and Rome, becoming the main source of roofing material by 1212 AD, when King John of England issued building by-laws to eliminate combustible roofing.

By the 18th century, tiled roofing was the standard throughout Europe and with the growing popularity of these types of roofing materials, industrial production began in the latter part of this century.

The first composite roofing material was seen in London in the 1840’s, whereby woven fabric was covered in tar and sand. This eventually led to S.M and C.M Warren Company developing the first true composition roofing with their invention of roll roofing. This roofing was made of felt that was dipped in tar and covered with fine gravel, later leading to the development of asphalt shingles.

Henry M. Reynolds was credited with the development of the first individual asphalt shingle and F.C Overby further developed this idea in 1914 with the use of crushed slate which gave the shingles the weight needed to withstand the elements. At this point a new industry was born and continued to improve and flourish throughout the years.

Metal Roofing In Use

Another line of roofing that developed alongside the asphalt shingle was the use of metal as a dwelling cover. In 970 BC the Jerusalem Temple was outfitted with a beautiful copper roof and led to the development of a new industry.

The first industrial production of metal roofing began in island locations as they were shown to be much more weather resistant and were able to withstand the dangers of monsoons, earthquakes, and hurricanes.

Robert L. Merwin & Co., a St. Croix Island based business, was founded in 1892. They were created to import corrugated metal for building which made the product far more cost effective and more widely available.

This served to increase its popularity and led the way to the eventual mass production of metal roofing, which was far more practical for islanders than clay tiles. Popularity of metal roofing spread from the islands and made its way around the globe as an alternative to other more traditional roofing materials.

Now with the growing concern of environmental waste, metal roofing has become even more efficient, allowing for much of it to be recycled and reused.

As you can see the roofing industry has come a long way and will only continue to improve as technology advances.

As long as people are in need of dwellings they will be in need of roofs, and with the growing energy costs, metal roofing may stand to be the winner at the end of this long journey through roofing history.

Thanks for reading,

Frank Istueta