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The History of Paper

Before paper as we know it existed, people communicated through pictures and symbols carved into tree bark, painted on cave walls, and marked on papyrus or clay tablets.

About 2,000 years ago, inventors in China took communication to the next level, crafting cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings. And paper, as we know it today, was born!

Paper was first made in Lei-Yang, China by Ts'ai Lun, a Chinese court official. In all likelihood, Ts'ai mixed mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, mashed it into pulp, pressed out the liquid and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun.

During the 8th century, about 300 years after Ts’ai’s discovery, the secret traveled to the region that is now the Middle East. Yet, it took another 500 years for papermaking to enter Europe. One of the first paper mills was built in Spain, and soon, paper was being made at mills all across Europe.

Then, with paper easier to make, paper was used for printing important books, bibles, and legal documents.

England began making large supplies of paper in the late 15th century and supplied the colonies with paper for many years.

Finally, in 1690, the first U.S. paper mill was built in Pennsylvania.

At first American paper mills used the Chinese method of shredding old rags and clothes into individual fibers to make paper.

But, as the demand for paper grew, the mills changed to using fiber from trees because wood was less expensive and more abundant than cloth.

Today, paper is made from trees grown in sustainably managed forests and from recycled paper.

Recycling has always been a part of papermaking.

When you recycle your used paper, paper mills will use it to make new notebook paper, paper grocery bags, cardboard boxes, envelopes, magazines, cartons, newspapers and other paper products.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative—Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $60 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.