The Evolution of Roofing Materials

Wooden Trusses of a roof

Have you ever stopped to wonder what roofing materials looked like in the past? It might make you appreciate your asphalt shingles a bit more to take a historical stroll through roofing materials.


Natural materials were common choices for much of the 19th century, with wood, slate, and clay the most frequently used materials. These materials are still in use today. Terracotta clay tiles are quite charming on a Spanish-style bungalow house, while slate tiles may complete the look of a Victorian home. These natural materials are expensive, but for homeowners who have fallen in love, there are other products that can mimic the look and feel of a traditional natural roof.

Thatch is another style of roofing that was popular in the 1800s. Thatch refers to any type of thatched grass or weave. In tropical areas, thatch may have been made from sugarcane or palm fronds, where in northern climates it was generally made from straw or dried grass, which is surprisingly fire resistant.

Late 1800s

Metal roofs made their first appearance in the late 1800s, and today we are seeing a second wave of metal roofs. Metal roofs might seem expensive today, but they were really expensive in their heyday so they were generally reserved for the wealthy elites.

Bitumen roofs, or roll roofs, made their first appearance around this time as well. Bitumen contains a blend of natural materials including glass, sand, and limestone. Bitumen has largely been replaced by other materials, due to the material’s combustible nature and strong fumes.


Can you believe that the asphalt shingle was first introduced in the 1900s? It’s pretty incredible to think that the material which revolutionized the roofing industry continues to be the most common choice for roof renovations. The asphalt shingle went through a range of designs but nowadays it’s evolved into the familiar three-tab version.

Late 1900s to today

Although asphalt shingles continue to be the dominant choice of roofing material, the industry has not stopped innovating. Something you may have noticed if you’ve been looking for replacement roofs is the rise of imitation material.

Are you in the market for a new roof? Let Brandstetter’s KangaRoof provide a professionally-installed modern roof suited for the Cincinnati climate.