The history of paper making

Take a journey from 200 BC and follow papermaking from its earliest forms to the manufacturing technology of today.


Many materials were used as writing surfaces before paper was invented. Bark books from Sumatra, tapa cloths, books made from palm leaves, clay nails, and papyrus were among the most popular writing surfaces. Papermaking began in China as early as 200 BC. The first papermakers took recycled fishing nets and plant residues, soaked them in water, pounded the resulting pulp, and poured it on top of cloth moulds.

The art of papermaking was then introduced into Europe, where it revolutionised society. Thanks to paper and the printing press, books were now available to everyone, not just the rich and powerful. A number of early books and documents, including some made from cabbage stalks, cornhusks, wasps’ nests, and asbestos as well as parchment and vellum are on display at the American Museum of Papermaking. In 1690, the first paper mill was built in the American Colonies.

Artefacts from this period include early handmade newspapers, colourful ream wrappers, paper collars, and the paper from the first run of currency from the Continental Congress.

Dard Hunter, a famous hand papermaker and paper historian, collected most of our early paper artefacts. He travelled around the world in the early to mid 1900s and observed how different cultures made and used paper. Featured are several of the original books he wrote telling the history of papermaking.

Dard Hunter was responsible for the renewed interest in hand papermaking in the United States. Papermaking moved from a handmade process to a machine made process in the 1800s.