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A History Of Paper From The Ancient Egyptians To Modern Day

The Birth Of Paper In Egypt

Paper is ubiquitous in modern society but its story began almost five thousand years ago. The writing canvass used by Ancient Egyptians was made from a plant that grew freely in and around Cairo around three thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. This primitive product would be unrecognisable today but is widely considered to be the first recorded form of paper in the world. Stalks from the plant found growing along the River Nile were cut and peeled into long strips. They were then laid flat, dried and cobbled together using the natural adhesive qualities of the plant. What we regard as paper wouldn’t appear until around 105AD.

Refinement In China

The modern-day variety of paper was first seen during the Han Dynasty in China. Historical records suggest that a court official named Ts’ai Lun was the man who invented the product we recognise today. The process was basic and involved old rags and pieces of cloth being pulped and then dried in the sun. The Chinese worked throughout the following centuries to improve the product and make the production process more efficient. Paper was produced in a variety of colours and coated with a several different substances in order to preserve it for longer. Further developments and research led to the use of bamboo as the primary ingredient. Historians believed that the invention and development of paper enabled China to advance quickly and probably facilitated many other Chinese inventions.

The Dissemination Of Paper

The use and production of paper spread throughout Asia during the following centuries. Japan and Korea developed the production process further and came up with ways to produce paper on a much larger scale. The product didn’t make a meaningful appearance in Europe until well over a thousand years after its invention. Italian pioneers tried to improve on large-scale production techniques that had been imported from Persia and Arabia. They began by developing machinery that could be powered by running water. The basic principles of textile mills were applied in order to make the pulp faster with fewer workers.

European Uses During The Middle Ages

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Germany became Europe’s dominant force in the production of paper. There were nearly two hundred paper mills in the country by the start of the seventeenth century; a feat made possible through a number of innovations surrounding efficiency and cost-savings. However, it was the Dutch who perhaps made the single biggest leap in the mass-production of paper with their Hollander Beater. The invention increased efficiency and revolutionised the production process in Europe. The industrial revolution gave rise to the new Cast-iron printing press that could print twice the number of pages per hour than its nearest rival. The demand for quality paper rose significantly in a very short space of time. Raw materials and production methods were struggling to cope with the sudden increase in demand.

The Industrialisation Of Paper Production

Friedrich Gottlob Keller developed a machine that would address the raw material shortages and the production issues at the same time. His wood-grinding machine was able to take wood and produce large amounts of pulp suitable for paper-making. His invention led to the development of chemical pulp by Hugh Burgers and Charles Watt in 1854. The pair had invented a basic principle of paper-making that is still in use today. Paper can now be produced on a scale that would have been unimaginable only one hundred years ago.

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