The History of Concrete Tile

Early records indicate that the Chinese were producing glazed clay roofing tiles 5,000 years ago. Various patterns of flat earthenware root tile were used in Greece between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. The use of this tile mad variations of it spread along the southern Mediterranean mast from where it appears to have been introduced to Spain by the Moors. Mean while the Romans had adopted as standard, a variation of the Greek pattern they introduced wherever suitable clay was found in the Roman Empire. Until the I-ionans brought clay tile to England, the customary durable roofing materials were stone and slate, while straw, reed and timber were used as comparatively short life roof coverage. All of these materials are still used in different parts of England.

Concrete roof tile was probably introduced in Germany during the early 1800’s when a German farmer made some flat thin slabs from the new portland cement concrete and used them as roof tiles for his barn. Before long, he had built up a small sideline making tiles for his neighbors. The new product did not prosper for long as it competed with a well set up clay tile industry and high quality slates.

Recorded commercial production, using natural current to form the concrete, compound in llztvxnria around the middle of the 19th century. There are still many roofs in the Staudach district over a century old which give unquestionable proof of the durability of concrete roof tile. Tiles made in the mid 19th century by the Kroher family of Staudach were diamond shaped to imitate traditional stone or slate tile and had little or no coloring.

When this product was introduced in the early 1900’s to England, Holland and other European countries, it became the practice to add a coloring pigment, at least to the tile surface, in order to imitate traditional clay roofing tiles. These early concrete roof tiles were made on hand, or semi-hand operated machines.

The first practical power-driven tile-making machine was developed in Denmark in the early l920‘s. This machine, known as the Ringside, passed a line of cast-iron pallets or molds under a hopper which poured a concrete mix into the molds. The mix was then compressed by a roller and trowelled into shape by a piece of metal called a slipper. Shortly alter the Ringsted machine was introduced to England, about 1925, a young engineer named William Power developed a power-driven tile machine which was a considerable improvement on the Danish machine. However, the manufacture of tiles was still a slow laborious process as the tiles were raked, transported for curing, depleted and the pallets returned to the machine by hand. The early machines also suffered from numerous technical faults and considerable wear and tear problems.

By 1930, several tile making factories had been established in England, most using the Power machines. H. A. Willkinson, then managing his father’s factory in Surry, decided to eliminate the tedious handwork and to design a more efficient tile making machine. Within a few years he had developed a rotary machine which produced curved shingle tiles, and had also designed and produced an automatic racking device which accepted racks of tile fed to it from the tile machine convey or belt by a pneumatic thruster. Around 1948, he designed a crate—racking system which was an improvement on the previous racking system, and in 1953, in Australia, he designed and built a complete new tile plant which used a number of new features including the first cam operated propulsion unit.

The industry developed rapidly. In 1961, 82% of all domestic roofs in Great Britain were concrete tiled; the percentage in Australia approached 60%, and in Germany concrete tile covered 30% of all new roofs. 1978 estimates shown that concrete tiles account for 90% of all roofs in Europe and the South Pacific Basin, with major nations such as China, Japan and America rapidly converting from other products.

Concrete roofing tiles were first introduced in America in the early years of this century. Like the early European tiles, concrete was mixed and poured into metal or wooden molds and allowed to harden. By 1930, several machinery manufacturers were producing self—propelled, low pressure tile extrusion machines that trowelled, tamped or vibrated wet tiles to gain compaction. Some early manufacturers were Hawthorne Machinery of Chicago, W.E. Dun Manufacturing in Holland, Michigan, Patten Manufacturing Company of Salt Lake and Los Angeles and the Bar-Tile Company. Prior to the breakout of World War Il in 1941, a large number of roofing contractors or independent producers using machines manufactured by the above companies, produced a large volume of concrete tile in locations throughout America. Almost all new construction ceased during World War Il, with serious labor and material shortages prevalent for several years afterwards. During this period, most of the concrete tile factories in the mid west and eastern portions of the United States ceased operations entirely. A few producers remained in business mainly in the western states and in Florida, but total tile volume including that sold by clay manufacturers fell to minute levels by the early 1960’s.

The first high pressure extruded, “dry mix”, interlocking, concrete roof tile machine in the United States began operations during 1961 in Ferment, California. The prime mover behind the new venture named Perm-Roof was Mr. John Wotherspoon, who had just sold his business in Adelaide, Australia to two competing firms. Wotherspoon’s roof tile plant was purchased by Moonier Tile, Limited, and his concrete block factory was bought by Hollostone Boral, Limited. In 1963 the name was changed to “Life Tile Corporation”. The new machine made possible several new innovations. Since every tile was extruded onto an aluminum mold which would not bend under extreme pressure, precise tollerrancies could be maintained assuring better fit and weather tightness. Bright, long lasting colors were applied to the top surface only, instead of throughout the body, using a cement oxide slurry. An accent or flash color could be added for increased depth or beauty. The larger sized tile reduced installation labor since one—third fewer tiles were needed to cover 100 square feet.

Moonier of Australia, in partnership with the Raymond Concrete Pile Company of New York, opened America‘s second “modern concrete tile production facility” in Corona, California during 1967.

The early Life Tile and Monray sales representatives struggled hard for every job. Consumer demand for concrete tiles was virtually non—existant as was the needed understanding and cooperation of building officials, architects, and roofing contractors. The rapid rate of acceptance of the “new” high quality concrete tiles is ample evidence of the excellent marketing efforts and the need and desirability of the product by the American public.

The manufacture of concrete tile is now an exact science. Gone are the days when the sand used was judged as “slot” or “sharp”. Today, the sand is graded and tested under laboratory conditions. No longer does an overweight tiler stand on a tile to test its strength. Instead, tiles are tested in machines designed for the purpose. The colors used are no longer “pigments” but metallic oxides, both natural and synthetic, with exact analysis known and the fitneness carefully controlled. The tile itself is no longer pressed, but extruded, eliminating the laminations which resulted from pressing.