The History of Papermaking


For thousands of years, ancient peoples used materials like papyrus, animal skins, tree leaves, bark, and silk to record the important matters of their times. It wasn’t until 105 A.D. that the Chinese were credited with the first major advance in papermaking: combining several materials, such as hemp, tree bark, and silk, in water to create a pulp that was pressed and dried to create a sheet of paper.

For more than a thousand years, all paper was made by hand, and much sought after papermaking skills slowly spread across Asia and Europe. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in 1453 that the need for paper exploded. By then, papermakers were using old cotton and linen rags for paper fiber, which were more readily available and easier to work with than other materials. But as the need for paper continued to grow wildly, there weren’t enough rags to meet the demand.

In 1719, Rene de Reaumur first suggested that paper could be made from wood fiber after watching how wasps built their nests. Then in 1806 the Foundrinier brothers created a machine that could produce paper in continuous sheets. With these two major breakthroughs, and advances in pulping technology, it became possible to produce high-quality paper from wood chips. Modern papermaking as we know it today was born.

Recycled paperboard was first manufactured in several small mills in the 1860s and 1870s, making mass merchandising possible. Before then, most products were shipped in bulk and sold from barrels in small neighborhood stores. Now manufacturers could package their products as they wanted and distribute them over a wide area. One of the first products to take advantage of this new approach was an American classic, Quaker Oats Oatmeal, packaged in 100% recycled paperboard.

In the late 1930’s, however, paper manufacturers moved away from recycled materials and began using “virgin” tree fiber, initially for the corrugated or “cardboard box” and in the 1950’s for bleached white folding cartonboard. From that point forward to today, virgin and recycled paperboard manufacturers have shared the market for all paperboard packaging products.

Today, the 100% recycled paperboard industry is producing competitive, versatile products. From moisture-resistant refrigerated food boxes, to crisp, smooth pharmaceutical packages printed with the sharpest type and brightest graphics, the 100% recycled paperboard industry has successfully developed packaging options for the changing needs of the marketplace.