Scaring the Cement Industry


The Failure    

Traditionally, mortar for laying brick and stone was made using hydrated lime, sand, and water. Since it was slow to cure, after Portland cement was invented it was added to the mortar.

To simplify the making of mortar, in the 1920s masonry cement was invented. It had the advantage of being cheaper than the traditional mortars.

Masonry cement, like its predecessors, when mixed with sand and water produces mortar. From the time it was invented in the 1920s until near the end of the 20th century, most masonry cement was produced by milling about 50% Portland cement clinker, about 50% limestone, and less than 1% vinsol resin. Vinsol resin was used as a grinding aid and to entrain air into the masonry cement. Often up to 20% air was entrained. This produced 20% more mortar than a mix that did not entrain air. But the air and the limestone did not lead to bonding, so the bond strength was much less than the traditional mortars. This led to hairline cracks at the interface between the mortar and the brick. This led to water penetration through the masonry wall. But it saved the builder money, so it was used, and leaky walls became the norm.

In 1958 Herb was instrumental in the development of a masonry cement which did not contain any Portland cement, was low-cost, and produced an excellent bond with brick, block, and stone.

The technology he used was very similar to the technology used by the Romans before Portland cement was invented. Further, the Roman cement was much more durable than Portland cement or masonry cement. The development of this new kind of masonry cement scared the Portland cement industry. What scared them even worse was that the masons who used it usually described it with words like, “I love it!” Cement producers initiated changes in ASTM C91 (Standard Specification for Masonry Cement) which would prevent Herb’s cement from meeting the standard. Those changes were adopted in 1959. Usually it takes several years to change an ASTM standard, but the industry was united against this threat. This wrote Herb’s invention out of the standard. Even though the term “Green” had not been coined for environmentally sustainable products, Herb’s invention was a very green cement.

The Lesson

Herb learned that it does not take much to scare an industry when the industry knows they are making and promoting an inferior product.

The Success    

Herb was irritated that others had written him out of the marketplace, so he plotted revenge. The first step was to join ASTM. He then started learning how the ASTM process worked. To get better acquainted with members, he voted negative on several popular ballots. Members then lobbied him to withdraw his negative. After understanding the system, he drew up a plan to change ASTM C91 so his cement would be classified as a masonry cement. He kept his plan secret because he did not want to scare the industry again. If they did not realize what his plan was, he could slip modifications into the standard without anyone realizing what he was doing. He accomplished his goal in 1999, 40 years after ASTM had written his cement out of the market. By that time he had developed formulae which made the original work obsolete. He spent 40 years of his life accomplishing something that did not matter. Obviously, even though he achieved his goal, he had failed yet again.

He now regularly reminds himself that if you have a worthless goal and you keep after it, you can achieve that goal.


Author: Herb

In January, 2010, I left corporate America, and now I have my own business. Since I have never been able to focus on one item (Does that make me a scatter brain?), I divided my company into three divisions: Kayak guiding and instructing - specializing in nature kayaking, Building materials consultant - specializing in cements and forensics, and Writing - Stories w/ life lessons and construction books that are fun to read. Published books: The Stucco Book - The Basics, Animals I Have Hated, Grandpa, Help! Answers to Questions a Young Lady Would Never Ask Her Parents, Grandpa Helps Grandparents, Living with Cancer – That Intense Houseguest, Homes for Jubilee (June, 2016), and Kay pou Jubilee (in Haitian Creole) (August, 2016). Forthcoming Books: The Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer Book, The Stucco Book - Forensics and Repairs, and Failing My Way to Success.

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