As you read these words, concrete tiles continue to aesthetically and effectively adorn the roofs of the buildings in charming Rothenburg, Germany. Tourists flock to the picture perfect little postcard of a town, but few realize that the rust-red concrete tiles on those roofs are pushing two centuries now. Clearly, concrete roofing tiles stand the test of time.
Like many ingenious ideas — paper, movable type, the compass — roofing tiles were first used in China some 5,000 years ago. However, those were glazed clay, not concrete. For the modern, concrete tiles, we have to fast-forward thousands of years to the first few decades of the 19th century when portland cement was invented and perfected. The name of the German farmer who first used this newly available and highly resilient material to create flat, thin, roofing slabs is lost to history, but we do know that, by the 1850s, the Kroher family in Bavaria was producing diamond-shaped concrete roofing tiles, a style that imitated the prevailing stone or slate tiles in the region.
From Germany, due to their attractiveness, low cost and durability, concrete roofing tiles soon spread to other areas of western Europe, particularly to England, Holland and Denmark. It was in the latter country that the next big advancement in concrete roofing tiles took place: the invention soon after WWI of the Ringside, a power-driven machine to mass produce them. This process was further improved upon in the 1930s in England with the introduction of a rotary machine which produced curved concrete tiles. Developing quickly, over 80% of domestic dwellings in Great Britain had a concrete tile roof by 1960. These days, some 90% of all roofs in Europe feature concrete tile roofs with other industrially-advanced areas — East Asia and North America — catching up quickly.