- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: What's the story behind the oddly phrased 'Oregon Portland Cement Co.,' a longtime inner-eastside business that's visible from the Hawthorne Bridge?
A: There's an obvious reason why this company, at 111 S.E. Madison St., wasn't called 'Portland Oregon Cement Co.' instead.
It's because the name has nothing to do with its location, but the type of cement it manufactured: Portland cement.
As those in the industry know, Portland cement is the dominant type used in concrete production, valued for its strength. It was developed by a British stone mason named Joseph Aspdin in 1824.
According to the Skokie, Ill.-based Portland Cement Association, Aspdin apparently 'heated a mixture of finely ground limestone and clay in his kitchen stove and ground the mixture into a powder to create a hydraulic cement - one that hardens with the addition of water.'
In doing so, he laid the foundation for the cement industry, so to speak. There now are eight types, used worldwide for different construction needs.
Aspdin named his product Portland cement because it resembled a stone quarried on the Isle of Portland off the British coast. Sorry, Portlanders, it wasn't named after our fair Rose City, which wouldn't be named until 1843 during the famous coin toss.
In 1915, the Oregon Portland Cement Co. opened in Southeast Portland and stayed in business until 1983, when it was purchased by the Overland Park, Kan.-based Ash Grove Cement Co., the largest U.S.-owned cement company.
While the ownership changed, the name remained on the building.
'The new building was sold with (the name) on there,' said Liz Reardon, the administrative assistant at Ash Grove's western headquarters in Lake Oswego. 'The new owner decided to keep it there.'
Reardon said there still are many plant workers who are holdovers from the Oregon Portland Cement era, including herself - she started working there 37 years ago.
'There weren't actually that many changes made when the purchase was made by Ash Grove,' Reardon said. Some longtime customers even today continue to call the company 'OPC,' its old initials, she noted.
Yet there are still people around town who aren't familiar with the product.
'We still occasionally get a caller who doesn't understand Portland is a type of cement rather than being connected to a location,' she said. 'It just takes a little education.'
Another common misunderstanding people have is the difference between cement and concrete. Cement, of course, is one ingredient of concrete. It's also made with water and aggregate including sand, crushed stone, gravel, slag, ashes, burned shale and burned clay.
Next week's Stumper: What Portland street originally was named Asylum Avenue?