How paper began

 

Paper is an essential part of our everyday lives; from official documentation and money to magazines and books, not forgetting toilet paper and, of course, kitchen roll! But how did it all begin?

The word ‘paper’ comes from the Ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was created by weaving the stems of the papyrus plant and was being produced in Egypt and Greece as early as 3000 BC.

However, it wasn’t until approximately 105 AD that a standardised paper was created in China. Legend has it that a court official of the Han Dynasty, Ts’ai Lun, watched how the women in the village washed their clothes, noticing how fibres detached from the clothing and gathered together to form a fabric. This inspired Ts’ai Lun to collect the fibres, mix them with finely chopped mulberry bark and water, mash flat and then press out the water before drying the substance in the sun – creating the first ever piece of paper.

Chinese paper production techniques were kept very secret for many years so it wasn’t until the 13th century that papermaking arrived properly in Europe, when Italian traveller, Marco Polo, returned from his explorations in China and reported his findings.

Technology advanced significantly over the next couple of hundred years whilst still using cotton as a basis for papermaking. However, in the 19th century substitute raw materials were tested, leading to the choice of wood as the preferred material. Papermaking was industrialised throughout the 19th and 20th centuries until eventually the entire process became automated; from the prep and pulping to the drying and packaging.

Despite the digital advances of our modern society, the paper industry continues to grow and offer new possibilities, yet environmental concerns are prompting paper companies to become increasingly aware of the impact of their actions. New technology is being considered to help reduce energy consumption and look into ways that biofuels can be generated, so it will be interesting to see what the future of paper holds for us.