Paper – the material that shaped the modern world
The world we know today has been shaped by communication – the spread of information, ideas and knowledge between people and peoples. Over the course of our history we have used many different materials to display or carry our messages – rock and stone, wood, clay, bark, wax, silk, cloth, reeds (papyrus) and skins (parchment and vellum) – but, undoubtedly, the material that has played the most significant role of all has been paper.
First invented in China around 105 AD, the technology of papermaking did not reach Western Europe for another 900 years and a further 450 years before it reached England. However, paper’s unique ‘hi-tech’ properties – easy to use, lightweight, strong, durable, highly portable, flexible and easy to manufacture in volume – soon led to it becoming the medium of choice for virtually all recording and communication. Even so, it was not until the invention of a mechanised paper manufacturing process that paper’s true power was unlocked.
Only with the availability of a mass-produced, inexpensive communication medium available in quantity, was the true potential of mechanised printing realised and with it was born the era of ‘mass circulation’ newspapers, education for all and the worldwide exchange of knowledge that fuelled the great expansions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
From plans for buildings, cities, planes, trains and automobiles; books on fact, fiction, science, arts and crafts; newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, flyers and posters; letters, bills, reports and post; paper has played a key role in shaping almost every aspect of the world we know today.