Stories: Portland

It’s within our memory, in the early days of cement roads in this country, how the big concrete mixers would lay down a block of cement in the summer heat, followed by a crew of men covering it with straw or hay, and watering it down to keep it cool. It was necessary to keep the cement cool and wet so it wouldn’t set too fast. If it set too fast it wouldn’t set to its full strength. After the winter was over the concrete would be pot-holed, chipped, and scaled on the surface, and this was a problem Andrew was sure he could solve. He conducted experiments mixing a little bit of Rosendale cement with Portland cement and he proved to himself and his small staff of chemists and engineers that he had a superior product for state road construction. But he had difficulty selling this idea to the State of New York Public Works Department until one day when a concrete road was being built between Ireland Corners and New Paltz, about fifteen minutes south of Rosendale. He went to the Public Works Department and said, “Give me a chance to pour a test block using my formula. I won’t get in anybody’s way — the contractor will hardly know I’m there. And I’ll guarantee you that my test block will be superior to the concrete on either side.” So they let him do this and, after the winter was over, he proved the fact that his block of concrete was perfect while the concrete on either side was deteriorating.

From that time on every road built of concrete in New York State had to have one bag of Rosendale cement to every three bags of Portland cement. That was the beginning of Andrew’s meteoric industrial rise and he became a millionaire overnight (this was around 1937). The mill ran night and day. And not only did New York State adopt this formula but other states, even Pennsylvania, the hotbed of the Portland cement industry, adopted the same formula. The arid states of the southwest (such as Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada), where alkali and sand and salt play havoc with cement, all adopted the same formula. After the war was over the New York State Thruway was built: one bag of Rosendale cement for every three bags of Portland cement for its entire five-hundred-mile length from New York City to Buffalo!

The Portland cement people hated to see this small, independent operator from Rosendale make a one-third inroad into their market and they set about coming up with a chemical formula of their own that would match Andrew’s. And it took a long time for them to do it but they eventually did. Especially after Andrew got some big contracts, like furnishing the cement for the concrete for the Eisenhower Locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the bridge abutments of the Verrazano Bridge, and other big public works projects:one bag of Rosendale cement for every three bags of Portland.

So, in 1960, the Portland people came up with a formula that matched Andrew’s.