The Development of Paper

Although the word paper stems from papyrus , the plant whose stems were used by ancient Egyptians to make mat like sheets which were then used for written communication and documentation, it was nothing like the paper we use today.

by Tanya Oliver

Papermaking in China dates back to 105 A.D. (Image courtesy of Google Creative Commons)

Origins of Paper

Known as the father of paper T’sai Lun developed a procedure in which plant fibers were macerated, then mixed with water and strained to create a flat layer.  These thin layers once dried became flexible and strong paper similar to what we know today.  This has been dated to around 105 A.D. although other sources suggest paper could have been in use up to 200 years before this.  The Chinese kept their paper making techniques a closely guarded secret and it wasn’t until the 3rd century that the art of papermaking made its way out of China.


Paper Goes Worldwide

Knowledge of papermaking spread first to Vietnam and Tibet and then to Korea in the 4th century.  By the 6th century papermaking had spread to Japan, where even today it continues to be considered a fine art.  This was slowly followed by Asia, Nepal, India, Bagdad, Damascus, and Cairo.  In many cases the knowledge of papermaking was spread as countries engaged in battle and the victorious country raided their new conquered countries assets and technologies.  Such is the case with the entry of papermaking into Europe in the 12th century when North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal.


The paper industry explodes. (Image courtesy of Google Creative Commons).

Industrialization of Paper

It wasn’t until the 15th century that paper was considerd for everyday use as Johnann Gutenburg printed the first bible.  It is this event in 1456 that is often considered the birth of modern paper as we know it today.

As the demand for paper increased in early Europe everything from cabbage to Egyptian mummies were used as possible new sources for papermaking.  With the discovery of wood as a papermaking source the mass production of paper became inexpensive and renewable. Today the pulps from softwoods such as spruce are primarily used in mass paper production.


The art of paper. (Image courtesy of Google Creative Commons).

What’s Next for Paper

As the demand for paper and paper products has increased the supply and consumption of paper has exploded resulting today in environmental concerns.  Despite the recycling of mass amounts of paper, paper waste remains extremely high. As digital technology allows for the exchange of many forms of information without paper perhaps the furture of papermaking is in question.  Perhaps there will be a return to the traditional art of papermaking and paper will make a return to its roots.


Helpful Links

I found these links particularly helpful.


HQ Paper Maker. (2004). All about paper.  Retrieved May 12, 2012, from

Bellis, M. (n.d.). History of papermaking: the invention of paper and the history of papermaking machinery. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from

Silk Road Foundation. (2000).  The history of paper.  Retrieved May 12, 2012, from


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