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The History of paper

“Paper is more patient than man.” — Anne Frank.

Anne Frank wrote her famous diary in 1942, and it has since then been published in over 70 languages, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. With just a pen and pieces of paper, she became one of the most important historical figures of the modern era.

Paper has molded the history and evolution of the human race and continues to be an essential part of our shared culture. Authors, musicians, scholars, and artists throughout centuries have relied on the humble paper to mark the beginnings of their greatness.

But how and when did ‘Paper’ come into existence?

First lets look at what was before paper?

Paper is made by beating raw materials like wood, cotton, rice, or straw into a coarse pulp mixed with water and put through a paper-making machine.

The machine produces flat and dry rolls, which are cut into sheets. So, what were people using before paper?

Bamboo stalks, clay tablets, bones and shells, palm leaves, parchment, and papyrus were used by our ancestors to record important historical events. But these materials were challenging to store, transport, or produce. The invention of paper made history and also by some means contributed to the field of education.

The Inventor of writing paper

According to historical sources, Ts'ai Lun from the imperial Chinese court invented paper in AD 105. Although we cannot attribute the invention to a lone person, Lun has become synonymous with the creation of paper. 

It took centuries for the rest of the world to discover the secrets of papermaking. 

Buddhist monk Dam Jing brought the invention to Japan in the 6th century. The Japanese quickly adopted the process and started creating paper from mulberry bark.

In AD 751, the Governor-General from the Caliphate of Baghdad captured two Chinese papermakers in Samarkand. Later together, they founded the first Arab-world paper mill in Uzbek.

“It was in 793 AD that hemp and linen became prominent ingredients in papermaking due to their abundant availability in Baghdad. The Arabs modified the process of paper-making, with garnetted rags, and then macerated them”.

This allowed the rags to produce a homogenous pulp. The pulp was sifted to separate water from macerated fibers. On compressing, these fibers formed a fine sheet. The sheets were then dried in sunlight. As the last step, these sheets were covered with rice starch. Rice starch made the sheets more ink absorbent.

“Around the early 800s, paper became prevalent in Egypt and North Africa. They also followed the paper-making techniques used by the Arabian countries. It then took almost three decades for paper to reach Europe”!

In the 11th century, with the conquest of Sicily and Spain, paper was primarily introduced in Europe, however, it was immediately considered to be inferior to parchment. Due to its disputable quality. In 1221, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II prohibited the use of paper for recording public information. It was also noticed that paper covered in rice starch was attracting insects making paper perishable.

In Europe, the trail of paper production took a significant turn… The new process had a few notable features mentioned below -

The sheets were now glued with gelatine instead of rice starch. This kept the insects away.

They introduced signs and watermarking along with various types of paper. The watermarking made the paper shine in presence of light making it recognizable.

Press machines used hydraulic hammer grills for rag grinding. This automation reduced the time exponentially for producing pulp.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the moveable printing press hit the European markets, and paper became more famous leading to an increase in sales.

How did paper change the world?

It would take the skin of over two hundred sheep to make one copy of the Bible. 

Before paper, books were hand painted on sheets of parchment and adorned with gold and jewels, which meant only kings and queens had access to them. 

Royal scribes and artists would meticulously write and paint on sheets of parchment or papyrus to create books on medicine, bureaucracy, geography, and history. The common people rarely saw these books. 

The mass production and distribution of paper meant that books, newspapers, and other reading materials became easily accessible to the middle classes, dramatically increasing the literacy rate among the population. Paper became a household item, and by the beginning of the 20th century, people were using paper for all sorts of things - money, toilet paper, wallpaper for home interiors, and even for wrapping gifts. 

Modern paper production

Today, paper mills like IPM are sourcing their raw materials from managed forests under the guidance of the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC unites citizens, governments, and businesses with the common goal of protecting our forests forever!

“Just as we depend on forests, forests depend on us.”- FSC.

We need healthy and resilient forests to act as carbon sinks to mitigate the effects of climate change. The paper industry can help the environment by using responsible sourcing and manufacturing solutions. The paper industry has the potential to be fully sustainable with the use of renewable raw materials to create a product that can be recycled every time.

Screens vs. Paper

With smartphones, iPads, desktop monitors, and laptops, the number of screens in our lives has dramatically increased in the last decade. So why are we still using paper?

Paper is easy to hold, carry, and sometimes you just want to grab a piece of paper to quickly note down that passing genius thought or draw your ideas before you get overwhelmed by a screen. Paper is and will forever remain an emotion for humankind.