The Invention of Paper

An Ancient Invention

History: The Story Behind It

  • The earliest form of paper first appeared in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 23 AD). It was very thick, coarse, and uneven in its texture. It was pounded and disintegrated hemp fibers. China was the first nation who invented paper. The paper unearthed in a Han tomb in Gansu Province is the earliest existing ancient paper. A court official named Lai Lun made a new kind of paper from bark, hemp, rags, fishnet, wheat stalks, and other materials. This took place in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). This kind of paper was relatively cheap, light, thin, durable, and more suitable for brush writing.
  • Paper-making spread east to Korea and Japan at the beginning of the 7th century (end of the Sui Dynasty and beginning of the Tang Dynasty)
  • In the 8th century, Arab countries began to learn how to make paper. It took 400-500 years for paper to traverse the Arab world to Europe. In the 14th century, paper mills were established in Italy, from where the workmanship of paper-making spread to the European countries such as Germany. Italians produced and exported large amounts of the material , dominating the European market for years. In the 16th century, paper-making appeared in Russia and Holland. In the 17th century, it spread to Britain.

How does it Work?

  • Raw materials were chosen: cotton or linen fiber from rags. Rags were sorted, cleaned, and heated in a solution of alkali. They were then drained and seasoned. Then, the rags were washed and macerated to a pulp, which was then bleached. The paper molds then had to be made by hand. The sheets were then dried by being removed from the molds and then placed in a wooden screw press.
  • All the workers in the mill had to tighten the press by pushing or pulling a long wooden lever. The sheets were then hung to dry. The dried sheet was dipped in animal gelatin or glue to make the paper less absorbent. The method for smoothing the sheet was simply to burnish each sheet by hand with a glossy stone.


The invention of paper unfortunately got to other regions close to ancient china because of war. It was supposed to be kept a secret. The Arabs learned the process of paper-making from Chinese prisoners. The Arabs kept it a secret as well, explaining why Europe did not learn the paper-making process until several centuries later. This secret arrived to Spain as a result of crusades and established the first paper industry in Europe. The Silk Road was also a part of the spread of this process,of course. Perhaps people give more credit to Europe for the creation of paper because of the first printed Bible. A German man produced the first printed Bible. People perhaps confuse that fact with the first creation of paper.

The Chinese creation of paper inspired many other inventions that became part of the Chinese culture (ex. kites). The Chinese also began to use paper as toilet paper. Other locations, such as Germany, began to produce their own rag paper, which was much more expensive because of the materials used. I learned many things. I learned about the spread of the paper-making process. I learned about the effects that this creation had on not just China, but on all regions of the World. If things wouldn't have happened the way they did, who knows where we would be. How would we record information down? Would things be drastically different? It is important to learn about the origin of the things we use daily. Sometimes, we waste paper without realizing how important paper is and how long the journey was. We use paper for notes, for invitations, for letters, for records, for files, for receipts, for hy-giene, etc. We use paper for so many things.

Paper Is Simply... Amazing.