The history of paper began in Ancient Egypt approx. 3,700 BC – 3,200 BC 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 word "paper" is etymologically derived from papyros, Ancient Greek for the Cyperus papyrus. Most western books in the middle ages were made of parchment, derived from animal hides.
Paper was invented by the Chinese by 105 AD in the Han Dynasty and spread slowly to the west via Samarkand and Baghdad. Papermaking and manufacturing in Europe started in Italy and Germany by 1400.
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, while biblos, a Greek term signifying the bark of the plant, is in the derivation of various words relating to books, such as Bible and bibliography. The Greek writer Theophrastus used the word papyros to refer to plant as a foodstuff whereas bublos signified any derived processed product, such as cordage or as a writing surface. It was smoothed on one side by rubbing it against a flat stone surface. Papyrus was produced as early as 3700 BC in Egypt, 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.
Further information: Four Great Inventions of ancient China,
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.
Early papermaking in China
Further information: Science and technology of the Han Dynasty
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. It therefore would appear that "Cai Lun's contribution was to improve this skill systematically and scientifically, fixing a recipe for papermaking". 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. It was also used for safety, such as the padding of poisonous 'medicine' as mentioned in the official history of the period. Although paper used for writing became widespread by the 3rd century, paper continued to be used for wrapping (and other) purposes.
Toilet paper was used in China by at least the 6th century CE. In 589 AD, the Chinese scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531-591 AD) wrote: "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes". 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". 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). For the emperor's family alone, 15,000 special sheets of paper were made, in light yellow tint and even perfumed. 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.
The Bencao on traditional Chinese medicine; printed with woodblock in 1249, Song Dynasty
During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) paper was folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea. 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. 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.
Diffusion of paper
Paper spread slowly outside of China; other East Asian cultures, even after seeing paper, could not make it themselves. 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.
After the defeat of the Chinese in the Battle of Talas in 751 (present day Kyrgyzstan), the invention spread to the Middle East. The rudimentary and laborious process of paper making was refined and machinery was designed for bulk manufacturing of paper by Muslims. Production began in Baghdad, where the Arab Muslims invented a method to make a thicker sheet of paper, which helped transform papermaking from an art into a major industry. The use of pulp mills, which are water-powered mills used for preparing the pulp material used in papermaking, dates back to Samarkand in the 8th century, though this should not be confused with paper mills (see Paper mills section below). The Muslims also introduced the use of trip hammers (powered by humans and animals) in the production of paper, replacing the traditional Chinese mortar and pestle method. In turn, the trip hammer method was later employed by the Chinese.
The Arabs also made advances in book production soon after they learnt papermaking from the Chinese in the 8th century. Particular skills were developed for script writing (Arabic calligraphy), miniatures and bookbinding. The Arabs made books lighter—sewn with silk and bound with leather-covered paste boards; they had a flap that wrapped the book up when not in use. As paper was less reactive to humidity, the heavy boards were not needed. The production of books became a real industry and cities like Marrakech in Morocco had a street named "Kutubiyyin" or book sellers which contained more than 100 bookshops by the 12th century. In the words of Don Baker: "The world of Islam has produced some of the most beautiful books ever created. [...] Splendid illumination was added with gold and vibrant colours, and the whole book contained and protected by beautiful bookbindings." The earliest recorded use of paper for packaging dates back to 1035, when a Persian traveler visiting markets in Cairo noted that vegetables, spices and hardware were wrapped in paper for the customers after they were sold.
Since the First Crusade in 1096, paper manufacturing in Damascus had been interrupted by wars, splitting production into two centres. Egypt continued with the thicker paper, while Iran became the center of the thinner papers. Papermaking was diffused across the Islamic world, from where it was diffused further west into Europe.
In America, archaeological evidence indicates that a similar bark-paper writing material was invented by the Mayans no later than the 5th century CE. 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.
A copy of the Gutenberg Bible, in the U.S. Library of Congress
The oldest known paper document in the West is the Mozarab Missal of Silos from the 11th century, probably using paper made in the Islamic part of Spain. They used hemp and linen rags as a source of fibre.
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.
Main article: Paper mill
The Nuremberg paper mill, the building complex at the lower right corner, in 1493. Due to their noise and smell, papermills were required by medieval law to be erected outside of the city perimeter.
A paper mill is a water-powered mill that pounds the pulp by the use of trip-hammers. The mechanization of the pounding process was an important improvement in paper manufacture over the manual pounding with hand pestles.
Evidence for water-powered paper mills is elusive in both Chinese and Muslim papermaking, though there is evidence that they used human-powered and animal-powered paper mills. The general absence of the use of water-power in Muslim papermaking is suggested by the habit of Muslim authors to call a production center a "paper manufactory", but not a "mill".
Donald Hill has identified a possible reference to a water-powered paper mill in Samarkand, in the 11th-century work of the Persian scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni, but concludes that the passage is "too brief to enable us to say with certainty" that it refers to a water-powered paper mill. While this is seen by Halevi nonetheless as evidence of Samarkand first harnessing waterpower in the production of paper, he concedes that it is not known if waterpower was applied to papermaking elsewhere across the Islamic world at the time; Burns remains altogether sceptical given the isolated occurrence of the reference and the prevalence of manual labour in Islamic papermaking elsewhere.
The earliest certain evidence to a water-powered paper mill dates to 1282 in the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon. A decree by the Christian king Peter III addresses the establishment of a royal "molendinum", a proper hydraulic mill, in the paper manufacturing centre of Xàtiva. The crown innovation appears to be resented by the local Muslim papermakering community; the document guarantees the Muslim subjects the right to continue their way of traditional papermaking by beating the pulp manually and grants them the right to be exempted from work in the new mill.
The first paper mill north of the Alps was established in Nuremberg by Ulman Stromer in 1390; it is later depicted in the lavishly illustrated Nuremberg Chronicle. From the mid-14th century onwards, European paper milling underwent a rapid improvement of many work processes.
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." 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.
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.
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.