History of Asphalt Shingles

The History of Asphalt Shingles - The Roof Covering Perfected

"To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often."
(Winston Churchill)

Like many things we take for granted today, those beautiful, architectural, multi-layered shingles that give your home much of its curb appeal had humble beginnings.

It was back around 1840 when coal tar was first used to saturate layers of felt to produce a rolled sheet. The surface was covered with a protective layer of sand or ground shell. Nobody expected this invention to evolve into one of the most successful product developments in the building materials history.

Right at the outset, this "composite" waterproofing material proved to be so reliable and affordable, it attracted the interest of major distributors and property developers. Sears, Roebuck and Co. was probably the biggest supplier of this material entering the 20th Century.

Henry M. Reynolds of Grand Rapids, Michigan, started hand cutting individual shingles in 1903, making the manipulation and installation of the product easier and increasing its versatility and visual appeal. The Flintkote Company introduced crushed slate granules as the surfacing material. In 1915, continuous roll die-cutting was brought into the manufacturing process.

In the 1920s, the performance of asphalt shingles was improved by the development of a diamond cut shape to increase resistance to wind uplift. Coal tar had, by now, been replaced by more pliant asphalt, a petroleum derivative.

In the '30s and '40s, even greater wind resistance was built into the shingles by designing in a 'locking’ configuration. More and more specialized shingles were developed to further enhance weatherproofing performance. For example, an oversized two-tab shingle to be applied with asphaltic adhesive yielded a double layer of protection on low slope roofs. The pace of innovation matched a rapid, near relentless growth in the usage of asphalt shingles.

In the '60s and '70s, the core material, rag felt was replaced by cellulosic felt, the strip shingle was introduced, and the choice of colour selection exploded. Self-sealing strips of adhesive were later added to the surface of the shingle in the manufacturing process, eliminating the need to manually add adhesive to the shingle at time of application on the roof. Strip shingles that were originally produced in an imperial size (12" x 36") went metric to increase the speed of installation with fewer shingles required in the installation of a square of roof surface. By the '80s, the asphalt shingle had proven its worth and had become the dominant roofing material in Canada and across North America for residential steep slope roofing

The asphalt shingle continues to evolve. Manufacturing technology, raw material upgrades and design innovations have resulted in the production of shingles that provide a more distinctive aesthetic to rooflines. The core material of the asphalt shingle (the commonly used organic felt) is being replaced by a fibreglass base sheet. Laminate shingles (two factory-adhered layers) and even triple laminates are now available to consumers in a breadth of offering that has no match in other roofing materials.

The roofing shingle has been improved over time providing a wide range of styles, colors and profiles to the building owner. Covering a roof has never offered so broad and so many exciting options.