John Loudon McAdam

John Loudon McAdam was born on September 21st, 1756, the son of a landed proprietor, James McAdam who was one of the founders of the Bank of Ayr, and the niece of the 7th Earl of Dundonald, Susanna Cochrane, in Lady Cathcart's House, which still stands on the Sandgate in the town of Ayr. Famous as an engineer and road-builder, he both invented and pioneered a new and improved method for constructing roads which were smooth, hard-wearing and less likely to become muddy tracks than the existing roads of his day. This new process became known as "macadamisation" and was used throughout the world. Although he did not use tar in the manufacture of his own roads, the modern road surface has became known as 'tarmac' or to give it its full title 'tarmacadam'.
After his schooling in Maybole and the death of his father, John Loudon was packed off to America at the age of 14, into the care of his uncle, William MacAdam, an important merchant, and worked for him in his counting house and during the American Revolution made a small fortune as an agent for the sale of prizes. Whilst in America John helped found the New York Chamber of Commerce and also fell in love with Gloriana Nicoll whom he married. John and his wife's family were loyal to the side of the British in the war and John served in the British reserves. Forced to leave America when the war ended in favour of the colonists, he returned home to Scotland with his wife and two children. Aged 27, he purchased an estate in Ayrshire at Sauchrie where he worked as a deputy lieutenant of the county. His association with two members of his mother's family, the 9th Earl of Dundonald and the great Scottish naval hero, Admiral Lord Cochrane, allowed John to acquire controlling interests in both the local iron works and the local mills. His main business at this point was the manufacture of tar for use as a sealant for sailing ships and ropes. He was also able to gain a commission from George III as a Major in the Artillery Corps which made him known in England. 

Frustrated by the state of the roads on his estate he started to research ways of improving them and published a couple of treatises in which his argument was that roads needed to be higher than their surrounding ground and built from layers of rock and gravel and cambered to allow water to run off. He experimented locally with his radical new designs, first he constructed a road from his estate to the Alloway to Maybole road and then Furnace Road in Muirkirk is allegedly the first public road to have McAdam's processes applied to it. He was appointed surveyor for the Bristol Turnpike Trust in 1816 where he started putting his theories into practice large scale. His road building techniques were hailed as the single greatest advance in road construction since the Roman era and his methods soon spread around Europe and America. This was probably the most significant event in the advent of the Industrial revolution as all other industries relied on communications and transport. He was made Surveyor General of Metropolitan Roads throughout Great Britain in 1820. 

The British Parliament never upheld his patents and he was never adequately paid for his work, much of which had been done at his own expense. He was eventually offered a knighthood which he declined (although the honour was passed on to his son). John Loudon McAdam died in Moffat on November 26, 1836, and was buried there.
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