History of: Paper and Cardboard

Hi everyone. Ok, I have no idea of this will go over like a wet blanket or not, but let me explain what I want to do. For the past year or so I have had occasional random wonderings about different things. Yesterday, I was suddenly curious about when cardboard was invented. I know, it's weird, but I thought I'd share my research with you. If you ever wonder about the history of something, please feel free to comment or email me and I'll be happy to research it.

This isn't an in depth study. It's just mainly to expand our horizons, think about something we probably all take for granted, and maybe learn something interesting.

So, when did cardboard get invented? Here's a quick history of paper products:

3000 BCE: Invention of papyrus by the Egyptians, the first writing material created by pasting together thin layers of the pith of papyrus plant, a type of sedge grass that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt.

1600BCE - 256 CE: In China documents were usually written on bone or bamboo (tablets or strips sewn into scrolls). Silk was also sometimes used, but very expensive.

6th century BCE: By this time, parchment was being used in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. It was perfected in Pergamon, which is where it got its name. Parchment is made from the skin of calves, sheep or goats, often split. It's thin and is not tanned like leather, but limed. Vellum was a fine quality parchment.

200 BCE: the Chinese glued rice papers to their walls.

105 CE: Cai Lun is considered the inventor of paper in China during the Han dynasty. He created it out of mulberry and bast fibers along with fishnets, old rags and hemp waste. However, the earliest piece of paper that has been found is inscribed with a map and dates from 179-41 BCE. So Cai Lun didn't really invent it, but improved the recipe and the skills for making it.

Paper was very thin and transluscent and was only used on one side. The first use of paper not for writing was to wrap or pad delicate bronze mirrors. It was also used to pad poisonous medicine.

Toilet paper was used in China by the 6th century CE. Around 618-907 CE, paper was sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea. It was also used to make baskets and napkins at that time. The first paper printed money was also in China around 960-1279 CE.

It spread to Japan and then the Middle East where the first paper mill was founded in Samarkand around 751. In Bagdhad, they invented a method to make thicker paper which helped turn it into an industry.

By the 9th century: Arabs made books even lighter and made covers of leather over paste board. They were using paper regularly, but for important books like the Quran, they still used vellum.

By the 5th century CE: a similar bark paper parchment was used by the Mayans and Mesoamerica, until the Spanish conquest.

Note: parchment is made from reeds and bark. Paper is made from pulp, rags, and plant and cellulose fibers.

9th century: the playing card was invented in China. This was due to the use of sheets or pages instead of paper rolls as a writing medium.

1035 CE: the earliest recorded use of paper for packaging in Cairo where vegetables, spices and hardware sold in markets were wrapped in paper.

11th century CE: the earliest known paper document in Europe, probably from paper made in the Islamic part of Spain. They used hemp and linen rags as source fiber. The first recorded paper mill was in Spain in 1151.

1276: paper was being manufactured in Italy with watermarks.

By the 13th century: paper manufacture was introduced by Arab merchants to India.

1320: earliest known German manufacture of paper

1490-1588: First mills in England, relying on German expertise.

1630: first recorded historical reference to paper grocery bags. At first they were like envelopes and really didn't start getting used until the 1700's.

1683: the first use of the word cardboard.

1840: the first hand-painted postcard was sent in London.

1844: Charles Fenerty of Nova Scotia, Canada created newsprint from wood pulp fibers. He didn't patent his invention, but others did. The advent of the steam-driven paper making machine then made paper much more affordable. Before this time is was still expensive, especially for book-sized quantities. Before newsprint, newspapers were made from rags.

1848: A postcard was sent with printed advertising on it in the US.

1856: Corrugated paper was patented in England and was used to line tall hats.

~1865: Margaret Knight invented a machine to make square bottoms on paper bags. She is the mother of the grocery bag.

1871: Corrugated boxboard was patented as a shipping material by Albert Jones in New York City. It was a single sided corrugated board, and was first used for wrapping bottles and glass lantern chimneys. In 1874, the idea was improved to have liner sheets on both sides with the pleated paper in the middle.

1890: the precut paperboard box was invented

1904: the paper plate was the first single-use food service product invented.

1908: the "health cup" was invented, which was later renamed the dixie cup. It replaced the metal cup that had been used with water fountains.

~1922: Kellogg's first used cardboard cartons to hold their corn flakes. When they began marketing to the general public, they used a heat-sealed waxed bag over the cardboard box.

~1925: the Kieckhefer Container Company pioneered the first use of fiber shipping containers, including the paper milk carton.


  1. Here is one for ya. Are dolphins aware of us? Do they come to the beach and say to themselves "There they are, facinating."

  2. That sounds interesting, Mike. I'll see what I can come up with! Thanks very much! :D

  3. I saw a special on dolphins that showed they understand improvisation. For days the experimenter withheld treats waiting for the dolphin to do a new trick, but it just kept doing the old ones and getting more and more depressed and listless. Finally one day it did a new trick and the experimenter rewarded it with a fish. Immediately the dolphin got it and started doing new tricks so fast that the researcher couldn't keep up recording them.

    So long and thanks for all the fish!

  4. Extremely cool, NonX. :) Did you see the article I did on them? They are just amazing.