Bookmark and Share

Standardization News Search
History of ASTM Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials, 1903-2003

by Prithvi S. Kandhal

The 100-year history of ASTM Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials generally corresponds to the history of the development of paved roads suitable for automobiles in the United States. There were only about 6,000 miles of “improved roads” — those that had been graded, drained, and surfaced with a hard material — in the United States in 1903 when this committee came into existence. According to 2001 highway statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, there are 3.95 million miles of improved roads in the United States, of which 2.46 million miles have some sort of bituminous surface.

Over the last 100 years, Committee D04 has made significant contributions to road paving through the development of test methods and specifications used for the design, construction, and maintenance of road pavements. The committee has met the challenge of keeping pace with the ever-increasing demands on highway pavements in terms of increasing traffic volume and traffic loads, and even increasing tire pressure. This response has been possible due to the cooperative efforts of the committee members whose personal expertise and inventive genius was invaluable in advancing the science of road building.

The Creation: 1903

In 1901, the U.S. Congress established a mechanical and chemical laboratory within the Bureau of Chemistry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to test road material from all parts of the United States. This unit was called the Division of Tests. The Congress also stipulated that a scientist should head this laboratory and the salary was established at $2,500 per year. Logan Walter Page, Ph.D., of Harvard University, was selected for this position. This information is of special significance to Committee D04 because Page was chosen in 1903 to head the newly created ASTM committee for formulating standard methods for the testing of road materials.

This newly created committee consisting of 11 members was known as “Committee H” until 1910, when it was designated as Committee D04 on Standard Tests for Road Materials. During this time, the Division of Tests and the Office of Road Inquiry of the federal government were combined to form the Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering (OPRRE), which later became the Bureau of Public Roads, and is now the Federal Highway Administration. Page became the first director of this organization and held this office (as well as chairman of ASTM D04) until his death in December 1918. It is interesting to note that a federal government highway official led the formative years of Committee D04.

Formative Years: 1904-1910

Committee H began its work in earnest in 1904 after establishing four subcommittees. Three of these were assigned to develop test methods for macadam, asphalt, and wood paving block. The objective of the fourth subcommittee was to investigate road-building problems and their relation to test methods for materials.

During the period from 1906 to 1910, the same people who were instrumental in many of the developments leading to the present system of highways in the United States were also responsible for ASTM and federal government leadership in the development of standard test methods and specifications for highway materials. Standard tests for determining bitumen content in asphalt paving mixtures and determining the consistency of bitumen (the penetration test) were developed during these formative years, besides other tests for macadam rock.

Getting the Farmer Out of the Mud: 1910-1920

In 1910, when Committee H was changed to Committee D04, Page continued as chairman, and Prevost Hubbard, who had succeeded Arthur Johnson as secretary in 1908, continued in this capacity. Both Page and Hubbard were employed at that time by the OPRRE of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several provisional test methods, including the bitumen solubility test, penetration test, and extraction and grading of aggregates in paving mixtures, were developed.

World War I initially slowed the progress of standards development work. However, the events during the war and immediately after dramatically increased the need for standard test methods and specifications. The number of automobiles in the United States increased rapidly from about 78,000 vehicles in 1905 to 2.33 million in 1915, and to 5.55 million in 1918. The motor age had really arrived.

Many of the so-called improved roads, which were adequate for slow-moving, light weight, horse-drawn vehicles, could not withstand heavily loaded motor trucks and fast-moving motor cars. A new kind of highway pavement was needed to develop a network of robust highways, including farm-to-market roads. The role of standards developed by Committee D04 was very important in accomplishing this task. During this period, bituminous materials (both tars and petroleum products) became major road-building materials.

The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), which was organized in 1914, also formed its committee on highway materials in 1920. This committee would later develop AASHO standards. The methods that had been standardized by ASTM up to that time were adopted by AASHO with or without minor revision.

Reorganization and Development of Highway Standards

After Page’s death in 1919, D.H. Blanchard of the University of Michigan became the second chairman of Committee D04. In 1920, the committee was reorganized to meet the growing need for highway standardization. Two main subcommittees with 35 sections were formed, one for bituminous materials, and one for non-bituminous materials. Hubbard left the OPRRE to establish a laboratory for the Asphalt Association (now the Asphalt Institute), however, he continued as secretary of Committee D04 until 1946, a position he held for 38 years. Hubbard made significant contributions to the development of standard tests and specifications for bituminous materials. He was instrumental in reducing the grades of asphalt cement that were then in use from 88 to nine. He invented the Hubbard-Field Stability test for asphalt mixtures with the assistance of F.C. Field of the Asphalt Institute. Hubbard died in 1971 at the age of 90. A year later, Committee D04 established the Prevost Hubbard Award in recognition of his outstanding service to the committee and to the field of bituminous road and paving materials.

Committee D04 had 48 members in 1920, evenly divided between producers and non-producers (known as users and general interest members to today’s classification system).

A D04 Advisory Committee was formed in 1922, which met three times each year and reviewed the activities of subcommittees and all applications for committee membership (committee letter ballot was needed to become member of D04). This Advisory Committee was changed to Executive Subcommittee (membership limited to 25) in 1955. A membership secretary was appointed in 1958.

Committee D04’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1953 with committee membership at 156.

Over the years, Committee D04 has been involved in many aspects of highway materials and specifications, however, the major responsibilities and activities have been related to bituminous paving materials and mixtures.

Bitumen Binders

In the early years, asphalt testing was conducted primarily to determine the suitability of a material to be used as a flux for natural lake asphalts (such as Trinidad). Road oils derived from the distillation of petroleum crude were used mostly as dust palliatives for unsurfaced roads. The so-called “artificial” asphalts (harder residue obtained from refining petroleum) were being introduced as binders for hot-mix asphalt pavements and were significantly less expensive than Trinidad and other natural asphalts. The suppliers of Trinidad asphalt fought very hard to stop the influx of the “cheap artificial product.” In fact, A.W. Dow, who was the asphalt inspector for the District of Columbia, was ordered by the congressional committee responsible for district affairs to stop using petroleum asphalt in road building or face dismissal. Dow appealed to the courts and won a decision permitting the broadening of the binder specification to include petroleum asphalts.

Dow, a charter member of Committee H, presented a paper, “The Testing of Bitumens for Paving Purposes,” at the Sixth Annual Meeting of ASTM held in 1903, which essentially marked the beginning of ASTM activities in this area. He described an improved penetration test (similar to that first invented by Bowen in 1888) for measuring consistency, a ductility test for measuring adhesion and cementing characteristics (Dow’s own invention), a loss-on-heating test, a penetration test on residue to determine the stability of asphalt during heating and mixing, a solubility test using carbon disulfide and petroleum naphtha, and a water resistance test.

The first standard ASTM specifications developed for penetration graded asphalt cements for paving purposes were adopted in 1921, after many years of using tentative or provisional standards. The number of penetration grades was reduced from 10 to five in 1968 following the “skip-grading” concept adopted by AASHO in 1960.

All of the early tests for consistency (viscosity) of bituminous binder, such as the penetration test, were empirical tests. In 1937, Committee D04 sponsored a symposium on using absolute viscosity units to measure the consistency of bituminous materials. Despite this early interest in using fundamental tests, little progress was made in this area until the late 1950s and 1960s. Committee D04 adopted two fundamental viscosity tests in 1963: D 2170, Test Method for Kinematic Viscosity of Asphalts (Bitumens), and D 2171, Test Method for Viscosity of Asphalts by Vacuum Capillary Viscometer. However, viscosity-graded asphalt cement specifications using these test methods were not adopted by ASTM until 1975.

In the late 1980s, the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) initiated a $50 million, five-year research program to develop performance-based asphalt binder tests and specifications. On completion of this project in 1993, a PG asphalt binder specification and related tests were recommended by SHRP. Committee D04 has adopted most of the new binder test methods.

Bituminous Mixtures

In the early years of Committee D04, an emphasis was placed on tests and specifications for individual materials. The direct involvement of the committee in designing bituminous mixtures did not begin until the late 1940s and the 1950s. Prior to that, individual states and organizations were using either recipe-type mixtures or their own mix design and quality control tests. The first and most widely used mix design test was the Hubbard-Field test developed by Hubbard and Field in the early 1920s. Although this method filled the early need for a rational mix design procedure, it was only useful for sand mixtures with all of the aggregate passing the No. 4 sieve. In the search for better mix design procedures, different approaches were developed by various organizations. The Hveem method based on surface area or surface capacity was developed in California by Francis Hveem, and the Marshall method, based on a testing device developed by Bruce Marshall of the Mississippi Highway Department, was researched and adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A gyratory testing machine (GTM) was later developed by the Corps of Engineers for conducting mix designs.

There was a need to improve the precision and interchangeability of mix design test results from different laboratories, so Committee D04 adopted a standardized version of several of these procedures. The Hubbard-Field test was adopted in 1952, the Hveem and Marshall methods were adopted in 1958, and the GTM method was adopted in 1974. Committee D04 is in the process of adopting the Superpave mix design method developed by SHRP, which uses a Superpave gyratory compactor.

Activities in Nonbituminous Areas

Committee D04 has also been very active in areas other than bituminous materials and mixtures over the last 100 years. The areas are listed below in chronological order according to when the first standard was published.

A test for determining the resistance to fracture of rock for the construction of macadam pavement was adopted in 1905 by Committee H. Tests for abrasion and rock hardness were adopted in 1908. After the joint committee made up of representatives of C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates, D04, and D08 on Roofing, Waterproofing and Bituminous Materials met in 1915, several aggregate standards were transferred to Committee C09. However, D04 is still responsible for many aggregate standards, especially those related to bituminous pavements.

Deicing Materials
The first standard specification for calcium chloride was published in 1921. Calcium chloride was typically used for ice/snow removal, dust control, and stabilization of soils. The standard specification for sodium chloride was published in 1941.

Preformed and Formed In-Place Sealants
Numerous standards have been developed over the years by D04 for sealants used in joints of road pavements and bridge structures. The first standard developed for asphalt plank (used for bridge decks) was published in 1938.

Nondestructive Testing of Pavement Structures
Two standards on static plate load tests of soils and flexible pavement components were adopted in 1952. Other standards such as those related to dynamic deflection measurements have been developed since the 1980s.

Bridges and Structures
Several standards concerning bridge deck protection systems such as waterproofing have been adopted by D04 since the late 1970s. The development of standards for bridge structures also started in the late 1970s; the first standard on elastomeric bearings was adopted in 1981. Since then, standards for detecting delaminations in bridge decks and standards for structural steel fabrication have been developed.

Highway Traffic Materials
There was a need for developing standards for highway traffic materials such as pavement markers for traffic control and retroreflective sheeting. The first standard on non-plowable raised pavement markers was adopted in 1983.

Committee D04 Today

Committee D04 has been aggressively developing precision statements since the mid-1980s so that the user is knowledgeable about the variability and precision level of each standard test procedure. This is valuable information in preparation and application of specification requirements and quality control/quality assurance procedures based on ASTM standards.

As mentioned earlier, Committee D04 is engaged in adopting many of the test methods and specifications required in the Superpave mix design technology developed in SHRP. In addition to several new asphalt binder tests, Superpave also involves new aggregate quality tests, volumetric mix analyses, and performance-related mix evaluation tests.

In recent years, Committee D04 has been holding a symposium every other year on topics related to road and paving materials, such as “Use of Waste Materials in HMA,” “Engineering Properties of Asphalt Mixtures and the Relationship to Performance,” and “Flexible Pavement Rehabilitation and Maintenance.” These symposia present and review the most up-to-date research and the state of practice on the topic and, therefore, stimulate the development of new test methods and/or specifications.

At the beginning of 2003, Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials had a membership of 593 people representing all segments of the national road and paving industry as well as several foreign countries. The committee, which is responsible for more than 190 standards, is divided into 31 subcommittees, representing a vast array of roadway construction materials and test methods.

In 2003, as we celebrate Committee D04’s perseverance for one century, we must recognize that the growth of this committee has resulted from the dedicated, cooperative efforts of numerous interested individuals and organizations. In standardizing the science of road building, the various subcommittees of D04 have drawn on the personal expertise and inventive genius of many engineers, technologists, academia, geologists, chemists, material suppliers, and construction contractors. The body of test methods and specifications developed by Committee D04 over the last 100 years has helped road construction not only in the United States but throughout the world. These standards, built on the consensus of all interests, have provided a means of assuring quality road paving materials and construction procedures.

New test procedures and standards are continually being adopted and refined by the committee in keeping pace with newly developed technology and materials. Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials will continue to make a major contribution to the science of road building in the 21st century and beyond. //


Halstead, Woodrow J., “History of ASTM Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials,” American Society for Testing and Materials, 1990.

Waller, H. Fred, “Building America’s Roadway Network,” ASTM Standardization News, March 1998.

“America’s Highways: 1776-1976,” U.S Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1976.

Gillespie, H.M. “A Century of Progress: The History of Hot Mix Asphalt,” National Asphalt Pavement Association, Lanham, Maryland, 1992.

“Asphalt Revolution: The History of Hot Mix Asphalt in Ohio,” Flexible Pavements of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, 2002.

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Prithvi S. Kandhal is associate director emeritus of the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University. He is past president of the Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists. Kandhal served as chairman of Committee D04 from 1998 to 2000. Kandhal received the ASTM Award of Merit in 2003.