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Making Paper: Past to Present

Updated on October 20, 2011
 The oldest documented book in the world, Circa 868 CE.
The oldest documented book in the world, Circa 868 CE.

The first recorded history of someone making paper was in China over 2,000 years ago. His name was Ts'ai Lun and it’s believed he did it by grinding up plants, tree bark, linen and hemp to make a pulp. This pulp was spread out on a screen type mat and pressed to remove the water and then left to dry in the sun. The result was paper…one of today’s most widely used products.

Paper was more than likely being made before Ts'ai Lun came along, but he’s the first documented manufacturer…on paper of course. Although, people had been writing and drawing for centuries on cave walls and papyrus before the discovery of paper. Papyrus was the first material resembling modern day paper and was made in Egypt. Papyrus was made by taking the inner part of papyrus stems, flattening them and then pounding them into thin sheets.

It was later discovered if plant fibers were separated and suspended in water they would naturally form a sheet of paper. The process is so simple some make their own.

The art of making paper eventually spread around the world, but it was all being made manually one sheet at a time until 1798. It also consumed a lot of material. Then, it was discovered old rags could also be used, but unfortunately at the time, those too were in short supply. That is until the infamous plague struck Europe killing untold numbers of the population. Then suddenly, there was plenty. This coincidently occurred about the same time the printing press appeared. Books became more readily accessible and an enlightened, better educated society began pondering a better way to make paper.

It was in the 1700s when Rene de Réaumur noticed paper wasps chewing up bits of wood to make a pulpy substance which they used to build their nests. They were making a form of paper! De Réaumur had discovered paper could be made from wood, although he actually never became involved in the craft. That was done by other paper pioneers who formulated ways to more efficiently grind wood and separate the fibers.

However, apparently in Persia, ways to efficiently make paper was relatively light years ahead of their European counterparts. They were using water powered paper mills as early as the 8th century. Modern papermaking began during the early 1800s in Europe with the fourdrinier machine which produces huge rolls of paper rather than individual sheets. Basically, the same dynamics still apply.

Today, although papermaking has become a more scientifically complex process, utilizing computer guided machines, most paper is still processed from wood pulp, cotton or a variety of other textile materials. It’s just produced in vastly larger quantities and at much greater speeds then Ts'ai Lun could have ever imagined.

People still make their own paper, not because they have to, but because it’s fun for both adults and children. It’s also a great way to recycle. Instructions and supplies needed for making homemade paper products can be found at: http://www.pioneerthinking.com/crafts/crafts-basics/makingpaper.html

Now, imagine a paperless society. Many companies are trying to go paperless via the internet, but operating a business totally without paper is, of course, impossible. Everything from toilet paper to cardboard boxes are made of it…including your paycheck. And what would happen to such industries which manufacture such products as paper weights and paper shredders? Additionally, you couldn’t print out this page!

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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      sheila b. You are welcome

      Paradise7 Why write something not interesting no one will read? Thanks for the kudos.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I have a hand-bound book of home-made paper that my brother gave me. I'm afraid to write in it, it's too precious.

      Loved this hub, as I love all of yours. You manage to make the most diverse topics interesting.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      6 years ago

      Maybe you've spurred me on to try papermaking. It's something I've long thought would be fun. Thanks for this informative hub.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Paper is so inexpensive now days, it's a lot of trouble to go through. But people do it as a hobby and they like it. It's also a good way to get the kids to shut up. :)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      What an interesting topic! I once worked with a lady who made beautiful and unique textured papers by drying and pressing pulp on a piece of window screen. I never had that much patience! ;D

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