The Evolution of Asphalt Shingles: A Journey Through Time

by | Apr 10, 2024 | Blog

Asphalt shingles have become synonymous with modern roofing, offering a blend of durability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness that has made them a favorite among homeowners and commercial property owners alike. However, the journey of asphalt as a roofing material is rich with innovation, adaptation, and technological advancements. This article explores the fascinating history of asphalt shingles, tracing their evolution from the early 19th century to the present day.

The Origins of Asphalt Roofing

The Early Days

The story of asphalt roofing begins in the early 1800s, with roofers using fabric coated in pine tar as a rudimentary form of waterproofing. This method laid the groundwork for future innovations in roofing materials. The pine tar, while effective in repelling water, was costly and difficult to procure, prompting the search for more accessible alternatives.

The Warren Brothers: Pioneers of Asphalt Roofing

In 1847, the Warren brothers, Samuel M. and Cyrus M., revolutionized the roofing industry by substituting pine tar with coal tar, a byproduct of the gas light industry. This shift not only made roofing materials more affordable but also introduced coal tar’s superior waterproofing properties. The discovery of asphalt’s potential at Trinidad Lake further expanded the possibilities, allowing for the combination of asphalt with oil byproducts to create a versatile roofing pitch.

The Petroleum Boom and the Rise of Modern Asphalt Shingles

The petroleum industry’s expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a turning point for asphalt roofing. The availability of petroleum asphalt enabled the Warrens and others in the industry to move away from coal tar, leading to the development of rag felts saturated in petroleum asphalt and surfaced with slate chips. This innovation marked the birth of the modern asphalt shingle, setting the stage for further advancements in durability, aesthetics, and application techniques.

Advancements in Asphalt Shingle Technology

From Rag Felts to Fiberglass

The evolution of asphalt shingles saw the transition from rag felts to fiberglass matting, a change that significantly improved the shingles’ strength, durability, and fire resistance. This technological leap, coupled with advancements in granule technology, allowed for a wider range of colors and styles, making asphalt shingles a versatile option for various architectural designs.

The Era of Architectural Shingles

The introduction of architectural (or dimensional) shingles marked another milestone in the evolution of asphalt roofing. These shingles, characterized by their multi-layered construction, offer enhanced aesthetic appeal and superior performance, including improved wind resistance and longevity.

Asphalt Shingles Today: A Testament to Innovation

Today, asphalt shingles are at the forefront of roofing technology, with manufacturers continually innovating to improve their weather resistance, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability. Modern asphalt shingles can mimic the appearance of wood, slate, and other materials, providing homeowners with a plethora of design options without compromising on performance.


The history of asphalt shingles is a testament to human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of improvement. From their humble beginnings to their current status as a leading roofing material, asphalt shingles have continuously evolved to meet the changing needs and preferences of builders and homeowners. As we look to the future, the story of asphalt shingles is far from over, with ongoing research and development promising even greater advancements in roofing technology.

Tycos Roofing and Siding,  located in Wilmington, DE, is proud to be part of this ongoing evolution, offering our clients the latest in high-quality asphalt shingle solutions. Our commitment to excellence, backed by a rich history of industry certifications and a dedication to quality craftsmanship, ensures that your roofing project will stand the test of time, embodying the spirit of innovation that has defined the asphalt shingle industry for nearly two centuries.