Sciences - Other

The Early History of Paper

Gayla Pledger's image for:
"The Early History of Paper"
Image by: 

The History of Paper:

Paper is one of those every day items so commonly used we often take it for granted. Each time we reach for a clean sheet of paper for the copy machine, a scratch pad to doodle on, or a child's homework notebook, we just don't stop to think how different our lives would be without paper. Since the computer age stepped into full swing, bringing affordable personal computers into nearly every home in the nation, paper sales remain consistent; we want our hard copies. Environmental issues have made us more aware of the affects our paper usage has on the world, and as a solution, we've learned to recycle the precious commodity. Whether for writing, printing, wrapping packages, paper sacks, arts and crafts, toilet paper, paper towels, and books, we cannot live without the wonder of beaten, pressed, and dried pulp we call paper.

Paper comes from the word "papyrus", a plant whose fibers were used to create one of the first paper products in 3,000 BC Egypt. Papyrus sheets were sold to the ancient Greeks and Romans who used it to fill their libraries with the many works of antiquity. However, it became such an expense, the Romans decided to make their own. Yet, the papyrus plant grows only in subtropical climates and therefore wasn't available to Rome. As a result, they invented parchment in the 3rd century BC made from sheep and calf skin.

Around the time Egyptians were creating papyrus, the ancient Chinese had invented rice paper. They were so advanced at the various types and uses of paper, the art is considered to be one of ancient China's four great inventions.

Around 3,000 BC, the earliest forms of paper were being manufactured in Egypt from papyrus plant fibers and in China, rice paper was developed. In the 3rd century BC, Romans invented parchment. Mayans invented paper in the 5th century AD and the Up until 256 BC, the Chinese wrote their documents on scrolls of bamboo or bone, but these were heavy and difficult to transport. By the 8th century BC, the Chinese were using wood pulp paper for documents, but paper used for wrapping and padding precious items dates back to the 2nd century BC. By the early 2nd century AD the first standard paper processing was in wide use, and in the 6th century, the Chinese were using rice paper as toilet paper. Other uses of paper were widely used in Asia between the 6th and 14th centuries, including tea bags, paper cups and napkins, and envelopes. In 960 AD, the Chinese were the first to make and use paper money (bank notes). While the desire for paper products spread throughout all of Asia and Europe, the Chinese were reluctant to share their secrets, leaving the rest of the world to discover these processes at a later date.

In America, the Mayans invented wood pulp paper around the 5th century AD, and in some regions, the same process is still used by a small group of people. Books were invented in India, where paper was made from the pulp of palm leaves, giving us the term "leaf" when referring to pages in a book.

Today's paper is made not only from wood pulp, but also from the cellulose fibers of vegetables, cotton, hemp, linen, and rice.

More about this author: Gayla Pledger

From Around the Web