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History of paper

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File:Making Paper.gif
Five gigantic steps in ancient Chinese papermaking, outlined by Cai Lun in 105 AD.

The history of paper began in Ancient Egypt aprox. 3,700BC - 3,200BC (aprox. 5,700 to 5,200 years before present) with the use of Papyrus as a medium for written records, a considerable advance over the technique employed by the Sumerians of writing on clay tablets. The transition from clay tablets to Papyrus was as revolutionary as the step from manuscripts to printing. The word "paper" is etymologically derived from "Papyrus", the ancient Greek word for the Egyptian Papyrus plant, while the word "Book" is derived from another Ancient Greek word for Papyrus "Biblos". The 4th Century BC Greek writer Theophrastus used the word Papyrus for the plant and the word Biblos for the plant's products when used as paper. The Chinese independently developed a papermaking process some 3,500 years later, developed in China during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).


Papyrus and Parchment

The word paper derives from the Greek term for the ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was formed from beaten strips of papyrus plants. It was smoothed on one side by rubbing it against a flat stone surface.[1]Papyrus was produced as early as 3700 BC in Egypt[citation needed], and later exported to both ancient Greece and Rome. The establishment of the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC put a drain on the supply of papyrus. As a result, according to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (Natural History records, xiii.21), parchment was invented under the patronage of Eumenes of Pergamum to build his rival library at Pergamum. Outside Egypt, parchment or vellum, made of processed sheepskin or calfskin, replaced papyrus, as the papyrus plant requires subtropical conditions to grow. These materials are technically not true paper, which is made from pulp, rags, and fibers of plants and cellulose. As paper was introduced, it replaced parchment.


Hemp wrapping paper, China, circa 100 BC
The world's earliest known printed book (using woodblock printing), the Diamond Sutra of 868 CE, shows the widespread availability and practicality of paper in China.

Papermaking has traditionally been traced to China about 105 AD, when Cai Lun, an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other bast fibres along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste.[2]

Early papermaking in China

Papermaking is considered to be one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China, since the first papermaking process was developed in China during the early 2nd century. During the Shang (1600 – 1050 BC) and Zhou (1050 BC – 256 AD) dynasties of ancient China, documents were ordinarily written on bone or bamboo (on tablets or on bamboo strips sewn and rolled together into scrolls), making them very heavy and awkward to transport. The light material of silk was sometimes used, but was normally too expensive to consider. While the Han Dynasty Chinese court official Cai Lun is widely regarded to have invented the modern method of papermaking (inspired from wasps and bees) from rags and other plant fibers in 105 CE, the discovery of specimens bearing written Chinese characters in 2006 at north-east China's Gansu province suggest that paper was in use by the ancient Chinese military more than 100 years before Cai, in 8 BC. [1] Archeologically however, ground paper without writing has been excavated in China dating to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han from the 2nd century BC, used for purposes of wrapping or padding protection for delicate bronze mirrors.[3] It was also used for safety, such as the padding of poisonous 'medicine' as mentioned in the official history of the period.[3] Although paper used for writing became widespread by the 3rd century,[4] paper continued to be used for wrapping (and other) purposes.

Toilet paper was used in China by at least the 6th century CE.[5] In 589 AD, the Chinese scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531-591 AD) once wrote: "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes".[5] An Arab traveler to China once wrote of the curious Chinese tradition of toilet paper in AD 851, writing: "[The Chinese] are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper".[5] Toilet paper continued to be a valued necessity in China, since it was during the Hongwu Emperor's reign in 1393 that the Bureau of Imperial Supplies (Bao Chao Si) manufactured 720,000 sheets of toilet paper for the entire court (produced of the cheap rice–straw paper).[5] For the emperor's family alone, 15,000 special sheets of paper were made, in light yellow tint and even perfumed.[5] Even at the beginning of the 14th century, during the middle of the Yuan Dynasty, the amount of toilet paper manufactured for modern-day Zhejiang province alone amounted to ten million packages holding 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper each.[5]

During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) paper was folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea.[3] During the same period, it was written that tea was served from baskets with multi-colored paper cups and paper napkins of different size and shape.[3] During the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) not only did the government produce the world's first known paper-printed money, or banknote (see Jiaozi and Huizi), but paper money bestowed as gifts to deserving government officials were wrapped in special paper envelopes.[5]

Diffusion of paper

Paper spread slowly outside of China; other East Asian cultures, even after seeing paper, could not make it themselves[citation needed]. Instruction in the manufacturing process was required, and the Chinese were reluctant to share their secrets. The paper was thin and translucent, not like modern western paper, and thus only written on one side. The technology was first transferred to Goguryeo in 604 and then imported to Japan by Buddhist priests, around 610, where fibres (called bast) from the mulberry tree were used.[citation needed]

Some historians[who?] speculate that paper was a key element in cultural advancement[citation needed]. According to this theory, Chinese culture was less developed than the West in ancient times prior to the Han Dynasty because bamboo, while abundant, was a clumsier writing material than papyrus; Chinese culture advanced during the Han Dynasty and subsequent centuries due to the invention of paper; and Europe advanced during the Renaissance due to the introduction of paper and the printing press.

Islamic contribution to Papermaking

After the defeat of the Chinese in the Battle of Talas in 751 (present day Kyrgyzstan), the invention spread to the Middle East.[6] The rudimentary and laborious process of paper making was refined and machinery was designed for bulk manufacturing of paper by Muslims. The world's first paper mill began production in Baghdad, where the Arab Muslims invented a method to make a thicker sheet of paper. The world's first paper mills were built in Baghdad from 794 CE, which helped transform papermaking from an art into a major industry.[7][8]

The manufacture had spread to Damascus by the time of the First Crusade in 1096; but the wars interrupted production, and it split into two centres. Cairo continued with the thicker paper. Iran became the centrer of the thinner papers.

Although the export of paper from the Muslim Empire to Byzantium and other parts of the Christian Empire was allowed in small quantities by the 11th century, paper was disfavored by the Christian Church as a manifestation of Muslim efforts to dominate trade and culture. Efforts were made for hundreds of years to boycott its use. Finally, in 1221 AD, a decree from Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared all official documents written on paper to be invalid (cited by David Abulafia in his book titled "Frederick II" page 209). Muslim engineers, at the request of influential Italian entrepreneurs, built Europe's first paper mill in Italy by early 15th century. The invention of Gutenberg's printing press in the mid 15th Century forced a change in Church's attitudes toward paper, and bulk supplies continued to be sold by the Ottoman Turks and Egyptians to Europe till the 17th Century, until Europe became self sufficient in paper production. It has been argued that the age of enlightenment may have been delayed considerably had it not been for widespread availability of paper.[citation needed]

The Americas

In America, archaeological evidence indicates that a similar parchment writing material was invented by the Mayans no later than the 5th century CE.[9] Called amatl, it was in widespread use among Mesoamerican cultures until the Spanish conquest. The parchment is created by boiling and pounding the inner bark of trees, until the material becomes suitable for art and writing.

These materials made from pounded reeds and bark are technically not true paper, which is made from pulp, rags, and fibers of plants and cellulose.

European papermaking

A copy of the Gutenberg Bible, in the U.S. Library of Congress

The first paper mill in Europe was in Spain, at Xàtiva in the present-day region of Valencia, in 1120. More mills appeared in Fabriano Italy in about the 13th century, as an import from Islamic Spain. They used hemp and linen rags as a source of fibre. The oldest known paper document in the West is the Mozarab Missal of Silos from the 11th century, probably written in the Islamic part of Spain. Paper is recorded as being manufactured in both Italy and Germany by 1400, just about the time when the woodcut printmaking technique was transferred from fabric to paper in the old master print and popular prints. The first commercially successful paper mill in England was opened by John Spilman in 1588 near Dartford in Kent and was initially reliant on German papermaking expertise.[citation needed]

19th century advances in papermaking

Paper remained expensive, at least in book-sized quantities, through the centuries, until the advent of steam-driven paper making machines in the 19th century, which could make paper with fibres from wood pulp. Although older machines predated it, the Fourdrinier paper making machine became the basis for most modern papermaking. Nicholas Louis Robert of Essonnes, France, was granted a patent for a continuous paper making machine in 1799. At the time he was working for Leger Didot with whom he quarrelled over the ownership of the invention. Didot sent his brother-in-law, John Gamble, to meet Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier, stationers of London, who agreed to finance the project. Gamble was granted British patent 2487 on 20 October 1801. With the help particularly of Bryan Donkin, a skilled and ingenious mechanic, an improved version of the Robert original was installed at Frogmore, Hertfordshire, in 1803, followed by another in 1804. A third machine was installed at the Fourdriniers' own mill at Two Waters. The Fourdriniers also bought a mill at St Neots intending to install two machines there and the process and machines continued to develop.

However, experiments with wood showed no real results in the late 18th-century and at the start of the 19th-century. By 1800, Matthias Koops (in London, England) further investigated the idea of using wood to make paper. And in 1801 he wrote and published a book titled, "Historical account of the substances which have been used to describe events, and to convey ideas, from the earliest date, to the invention of paper."[10] His book was printed on paper made from wood shavings (and adhered together). No pages were fabricated using the pulping method (from either rags or wood). He received financial support from the royal family to make his printing machines and acquire the materials and infrastructure need to start his printing business. But his enterprise was short lived. Only a few years following his first and only printed book (the one he wrote and printed), he went bankrupt. The book was very well done (strong and had a fine appearance), but it was very costly.[11][12][13]

Then in the 1830s and 1840s, two men on two different continents took up the challenge, but from a totally new perspective. Both Charles Fenerty and Friedrich Gottlob Keller began experiments with wood but using the same technique used in paper making; instead of pulping rags, they thought about pulping wood. And at about exactly the same time, by mid-1844, they announced that their findings. They invented a machine which extracted the fibres from wood (exactly as with rags) and made paper from it. Charles Fenerty also bleached the pulp so that the paper was white. This started a new era for paper making. By the end of the 19th-century almost all printers in the western world were using wood in lieu of rags to make paper.[14]

Together with the invention of the practical fountain pen and the mass produced pencil of the same period, and in conjunction with the advent of the steam driven rotary printing press, wood based paper caused a major transformation of the 19th century economy and society in industrialized countries. With the introduction of cheaper paper, schoolbooks, fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers became gradually available by 1900. Cheap wood based paper also meant that keeping personal diaries or writing letters became possible and so, by 1850, the clerk, or writer, ceased to be a high-status job.

The original wood-based paper was acidic due to the use of alum and more prone to disintegrate over time, through processes known as slow fires. Documents written on more expensive rag paper were more stable. Mass-market paperback books still use these cheaper mechanical papers (see below), but book publishers can now use acid-free paper for hardback and trade paperback books.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Biermann, Christopher J. (1993). Handbook of Pulping and Papermaking. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-097360-X. 
  2. ^ papermaking. (2007). In: Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 9, 2007, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  3. ^ a b c d Needham, Volume 4, 122.
  4. ^ Needham, Volume 4, 1.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Needham, Volume 4, 123.
  6. ^ Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998. (pp 58) ISBN 0-471-291-98-6
  7. ^ Mahdavi, Farid (2003), [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Review: Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World by Jonathan M. Bloom"], Journal of Interdisciplinary History (MIT Press) 34 (1): 129–30 
  8. ^ The Beginning of the Paper Industry, Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.
  9. ^ The Construction of the Codex In Classic- and post classic-Period Maya Civilization Maya Codex and Paper Making
  10. ^ Koops, Matthias. Historical account of the substances which have been used to describe events, and to convey ideas, from the earliest date, to the invention of paper. London: Printed by T. Burton, 1800.
  11. ^ Carruthers, George. Paper in the Making. Toronto: The Garden City Press Co-Operative, 1947.
  12. ^ Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison. "Koops. Matthias." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000, Vol. 32. London: Oxford University Press, 2004: 80.
  13. ^ Burger, Peter. Charles Fenerty and his Paper Invention. Toronto: Peter Burger, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9783318-1-8 pp.30-32
  14. ^ Burger, Peter. Charles Fenerty and his Paper Invention. Toronto: Peter Burger, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9783318-1-8


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