John Loudon McAdam
Born on 21st of September 1756
Died in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway
Died on 26th of November 1836
McAdam was born on September 21 1756 into a prosperous Ayrshire family, his father, Baron Waterhead, the founder of the first bank in that county. The family lived first in Laywyne and then Blairquhan.
Even during his early days McAdam took an interest in road building, actually supervising one local project while still a schoolboy. But when his father died in 1770 McAdam was sent to the care of an uncle in New York. There he worked in a counting house, making a fortune during the American War of Independence as an agent for the sale of captured ships (prizes). Though the American government confiscated part of his money, McAdam returned to Scotland in 1783 a wealthy man, able to buy an estate at Sauchrie in Ayr.
Back in Ayr he became a trustee of the turnpike there, and deputy-lieutenant of the county, noting the huge costs of road repairs and the little difference they made. With his own funds he carried out some experiments in road improvement near his home.
In 1798 he moved to Falmouth, having obtained a position in charge of supplying the navy’s food and drink needs in all West Country ports, work that required much travel and of course organising the transport of goods. Again he lamented the state of roads, and again out of his own purse he carried out road-building trials, in the face of much criticism.
In 1816 McAdam became surveyor-general of Bristol’s roads, and rapidly revolutionised the standard. His system was simple but brilliant: roads were raised and cambered to drain them, ditches being dug at the sides to further improve drainage, reducing frost damage and erosion. Rather than just earth and gravel he produced roads with a large stone base, topped with smaller stones (no stone greater than 6 ounces), and with the gaps filled by using finer gravel. At first this surface was compacted by use, but soon by employing an iron roller during construction.
The quality of Bristol’s roads was noticed, and his system spread rapidly. McAdam himself, however, profited little by his work, even a Parliamentary grant being slashed from £5000 to £2000 in 1825 because he had ruffled many feathers – officials had made fortunes from continual repairs to the old roads. MPs dismayed when corruption is obstructed, surely not?
McAdam died in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, on November 26 1836.
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2 Responses to John Loudon McAdam
From Bernice Mac Adam on 10th March 2013
A proud descendant
From simon on 8th May 2009
Scottish inventor and engineer, he went to New Yok in 1770 and made a fortune in his uncle‚s counting house. Returning to Scotland in 1783 he experimented with a revolutionary method of road construction, and after being made surveyor to the Bristol Turnpike Trust in 1816, he remade the roads there using his Œmacadamized‚ system.
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