100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Roads
Year of Invention: 250 B.C.

What Is It? A reinforced, smooth surface over which large vehicles and wag-
ons can easily travel.

Who Invented It? Roman engineers (in Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Nothing is more basic or essential to our transportation system than roads. Truck, cars and motorcycles need roads. Commuters, vacationers, and shoppers depend on roads. Roads connect groups and cities. Roads have allowed the development of commerce and trade.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Early humans followed animal paths through the forest, jungle, and meadow. Paths were widened for carts. Dirt cart paths were usually little more than two parallel ruts replacing the single rut that had been a foot path.

It was difficult—almost impossible—to move a large mass of men (such as an army) and a large amount of supplies and equipment (such as an army’s baggage train) along these bumpy, muddy, low-grade dirt roads. Wagons placed a greater load on the road surface and turned it into an impassible quagmire.


How Was the Road Invented?

By 270 B.C. a lack of reliable roads to move armies and supply trains across the Roman Empire had become a major concern. Engineers were assigned to fix it. They watched as roads disintegrated into potholes, mud, and ruts. They experimented to find the root causes and to test a variety of possible fixes.

The first thing these engineers discovered was that, over time, roads were trampled into depressions in the ground—often many inches lower than the surrounding landscape. Roads became natural pooling places for water. Pooled water turned quickly to mud. Roman principle number one: roads needed to be raised and built to provide proper drainage.

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