This is one of the world’s most indispensable products.
Paper is one of the world’s most important and useful products. Without it, there would be no newspapers, magazines, writing paper, or greeting cards. There would be no paper bags or boxes, paper money, gift-wrapping, or toilet paper. More than 4,500 years ago, the ancient Egyptians made a paper-like material from a plant called papyrus. The English word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus”. The ancient Chinese invented paper about 2,000 years ago. The art of paper-making spread out from China about 500 years later. It finally arrived in Europe about 900 years ago. The invention of the printing press in the 1400s made books popular, and the demand for paper increased. All paper was handmade until 1798. That’s when a Frenchman named Nicholas Robert invented a paper making machine that could make paper in continuous rolls.
Paper is made from tiny fibres from plants. You can see the fibres at the edge of a torn piece of paper. You can make paper from many types of plant fibres. Papermakers use fibres in straw, leaves, bamboo, sugarcane, and bark. Long ago, most papermakers used the fibres in cotton and linen rags. Today, most paper is made from wood fibres. The most important trees used for making paper are softwood trees. Softwoods include pine, fir, hemlock, and spruce. The long fibres in softwoods are ideal for making many kinds of paper. After paper is used, it can be reused, or recycled, to make new paper.
Paper is made in two stages. The first stage is to remove the fibres from the wood. This is done by grinding the wood or cutting it into chips that are softened with chemicals. The wood fibres are then mixed with water to make a soup-like substance called pulp. The second stage is to spread out the pulp, press it flat, and dry it. This makes the fibres stick together in thin sheets. Some paper is still made by hand. But most paper is made by machines at factories called paper mills.
Different kinds of pulp make different kinds of paper. Pulp made by grinding is called groundwood pulp. It’s inexpensive to make, but the grinding breaks the wood fibres into very short pieces. Groundwood pulp is used to make cheap paper, such as newsprint. Pulp made using chemicals is called chemical pulp. The chemicals separate the fibres from each other but do not break them. Chemical pulp is used to make stronger, longer-lasting paper for use in fine books and magazines. The best writing paper comes from cotton and linen rag fibres. Thin rag fibres are long, strong, and make very durable paper. Fibre from recycled paper is used to make paper towels, napkins, and tissue. Paper for printing is treated with special chemicals so the paper won’t absorb ink and cause fuzzy lines that are hard to read.