The start of a magazine

Celebrating 75 years of Asphalt magazine 
Part 1 (1949-1974)  

Magazines have long been a popular method for sharing information with many people. In 2024, we are celebrating 75 years of Asphalt Institute’s magazine “Asphalt.” 

The magazine became a national publication in April of 1949. The Asphalt Institute published the first edition of “Asphalt Institute Quarterly” with a striking photo of Washington National Airport’s runway. 

A publication entitled “Asphalt Forum” led the way for the magazine. It was published by the Pacific Coast Division of the Asphalt Institute as a regional newsletter from 1937 to 1949. 

The idea of an Asphalt Institute magazine was first broached in September 1919 at a meeting of the directors in New York City. J.E. Pennybacker served as the Asphalt Institute Secretary at the time according to meeting minutes. 

He implored the directors to authorize “a magazine to be devoted to furthering the intelligent use of asphalt in paving, roofing and specialties.” He went on to say that not a single publication was devoted exclusively to asphalt at that time. 

Records show the issue was revisited in 1928. Members distributed a series of well-illustrated articles about recent asphalt jobs as a precursor to the eventual magazine. 

In 1945 Hal B. Pullar served as chairman of the Asphalt Institute. He presented the magazine idea once more to the board of directors and it passed. After a few more years of planning and paper shortage delays, a “dummy copy” of the magazine was passed around to members at a December 1948 meeting. 

AI Chairman A.M. Maxwell said the publication would be “of large value to colleges and highway departments for reference.” The committee approved four 16-page issues for 1949 and early 1950. The name “Asphalt Institute Quarterly” was chosen to directly associate AI with the magazine. The first printing of the magazine was around 25,000 copies. 

Page three of the first issue declared the magazine’s purpose as “promoting interest in the use of asphaltic products.” Response to the magazine was very favorable, according to reports. Many national publications used the articles from the authors and engineers on their own pages. 

Over the next few years, the magazine grew in readership. Canadian subscribers were added. The articles were often overviews of asphalt paving jobs around the country and personal spotlights on notable men in the asphalt industry. A constant in every issue was the up-to-date list of all Asphalt Institute member companies. The editors and writers solicited ideas from members for articles and worked to diversify their coverage.

“Asphalt in Roofing” was featured in the April 1953 issue and listed asphalt roofing types as shingles, roll roofing (smooth-surfaced), roll roofing (mineral-surfaced) and built-up roofing. The January 1959 issue proclaimed, “Here’s a hot one!” while detailing the heating cables installed under a 90-foot asphalt driveway so the owner would no longer have to shovel snow. The October 1961 issue shared the interesting story of the new Nagoya-Kobe Expressway construction in Japan. 

In June of 1963 at an Asphalt Institute meeting in Portland, Oregon a new name and cover design was announced for the magazine. The magazine would be called “Asphalt” moving forward. With the name change, the magazine transitioned to offset (lithographic) printing to be more cost-conscious and utilize newer printing technology. The 1963 circulation for the magazine was 50,000. 

“It may be of interest to note that over 2.5 million copies of this publication have been distributed since the first printing in 1949,” stated Asphalt Institute Chief Engineer Arvin S. Wellborn in 1963. 

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon was featured on the cover of the October 1969 issue. He was quoted as saying “But highways are more than just business. They are the opportunities for recreation and the invitations to adventure and travel.” 

The persistence of Asphalt Institute founders and leaders turned an idea from 1919 into a plan in the 1940s to the first international magazine devoted solely to the discussion of asphalt products used in paving, roofing and specialties. 

Managing Editor Kendal Butler and Research Specialist Jacqueline D. Bartek collaborated on this article.