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The Paper Revolution

Tres Parisien.

Hand-colored Parisian fashion magazine ca. 1928. More images here

Rag cloth was the primary source of paper in the western world from the 12th to the 18th century. Beginning in the 1800s, the papermaking process was adapted to allow for the use of organic fiber crops, making the conversion from raw fiber to rag cloth unnecessary. Nevertheless, the cost of paper remained high. Engineers in North America and Europe began developing mechanical and chemical processes for pulping wood in the 1850s. The ability to pulp wood would allow papermakers to create fibers from wood fine enough for use in paper. By 1867, the basic method was in place. Over the next seventy years, the process was significantly improved, resulting in a more efficient system that could produce very fine wood fibers for high-quality papermaking.1

Wood for pulping was much cheaper than other crop fibers such as cotton.  As a result, paper could be produced inexpensively, reducing the cost of paper and, in turn, the cost of paper goods. Books and newspapers enjoyed an increase in readership as they became affordable to a larger population.  With more readers and more revenue, the printing industry boomed.


  1. Sjostrom, Eero. Wood Chemistry: Fundamentals and Applications (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1981). Return to text ↑