A Brief History of Paper
Paper is a product we use every day, but do you know the history of paper?
Have you ever noticed how many products we rely on each day in our personal and professional lives that are used to help ensure our safety or make our lives a little easier?
Yet, quite often we take these products for granted.
Knowing their ease of use and dependability, we have come to depend on these products without ever really giving a second thought as to how they came about, or who created them.
Take paper for example.
Willi and I decided to find and review the best paper to use for our paper shredders, and I am the type who likes to know as much as possible about the products we review, and sometimes this includes the history.
I did some research and decided to write this blog post for those who may want to know the history of paper.
The earliest forms of paper
The Egyptians discovered the first form of paper called papyrus.
Papyrus is a far cry from our thin modern paper. It is produced from the pith of the Cyprus papyrus plant and is quite thicker than the paper we use today, and predates the use of paper in China.
Since Papyrus was comprised of organic material and was not as high-processed as today’s modern paper is, it had a tendency to be uneven plus it was known for splitting and deteriorating over time.
In Mexico, the Aztecs, or The Triple Alliance, used Amate (a type of bark paper that has been manufactured in Mexico since the precontact times). After the Spanish conquest, Amate was mainly banned in Mexico and replaced with European paper.
Papyrus and Amate are not considered true paper, nor is parchment, which actually predates paper as it is produced from animal skin.
“Cai Lun’s” Chinese paper
Modern archeology has taught us that the earliest fragments of paper were discovered in China.
An extant paper fragment was unearthed at Fangmatan (located in the Gansu province of China) – this tiny fragment of paper was more than likely part of a map that dates back to between to 179–141 BCE and is widely considered more advanced that Papyrus and Amate.
Another fragment was found in Dunhuang that dated to 65 BCE and another was found at Yumen Pass that dated to 8 BCE.
Archeological findings of actual paper-making date as far back as 202 BCE with attribution given to Cai Lun (an imperial eunuch official of the Han dynasty).
This form of paper consisted of mulberry, in addition to other bast fibers, along with tattered fishing nets, old rags, and even hemp waste. Using these ingredients proved to be more cost-effective as opposed to the West’s common practice at the time of only using only rags.
This improved form of paper proved to be thinner and more durable than any other form of paper before it while providing a smoother writing surface that could be rolled and unrolled without causing damage.
Our modern paper
We have come a long way since papyrus, Amate, and Cai Lun’s paper, with today’s paper being mainly comprised of wood.
Starting in the 1840s, two men named Gottlob Keller and Charles Fenerty began experimenting using wood as the primary ingredient but using the pulping technique used to produce rag paper.
By 1844 they had perfected their modern wood papermaking skills and invented the machine that extracted fibers from the wood and made paper from it.
Mr. Fenerty also discovered that by bleaching the paper it turned white, which is the paper that most resembles the paper we use today.
With the invention of the steam driven rotary printing press, this modern paper help cause a major transformation of the 19th-century economy and society in industrialized countries.
The reduced costs of materials and production enabled the mass production of papermaking books more affordable and available to the masses.
Due to the use of alum, these new wood-based papers were acidic and prone to disintegration. Due to this, official documents continued to be written on rag paper.
Mass-market paperback books still use these cheaper types of papers but most major book publishers now use acid-free paper for hardback and trade paperback books.
Since the rapid advancements in technology over the past fifty years, there are now many more forms of paper being used worldwide than the Egyptians, Aztecs, of Chinese ever thought possible.
They even use recycled paper to make new paper, but this is for another post.
So, there you have it – The History of Paper as I discovered on my quest to find out as much as I can about the products Willi and I review.
What I find most interesting is just how far back the thought of keeping records and recording events transformed from cave writings to some person thinking “Hey this Cyprus papyrus plant might be used to write on rather than cave walls!” to the paper we have today.
Indeed, history are truly fascinating, and you can best believe that we will be adding more historical content here on DW Product Reviews that is centered on the products we review.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.