- October 01, 2003, Dr. Richard M. Podhajny, Ph.D., Contributing Editor
The origin of the word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus.” Ancient Egyptians created this paper-like substance from papyrus reeds more than 6,000 years ago by taking the reeds and pounding them together into a hard, thin sheet.
It was not until 105 A.D. that actual paper was invented in China. Mixed mulberry bark, hemp, rags, and water were pressed and hung to dry. This turned out to be one of man's greatest inventions.
The driving force behind paper was to communicate the written word. Buddhist monks spread their written word throughout Asia. As this new substrate became available, block printing developed in China and Japan. Wood, clay, and stone, as well as brass block printing, were used to print many books for China's great library.
Chinese contact with Arab armies in 751 A.D. eventually brought paper manufacture to the Arabs, and some 400 years later, to Europe.
As it did with the Buddhist Monks, paper became the means of spreading the written word of Christianity through printing of the Bible.
Paper mills in Europe would turn out high quality paper, and the introduction of Gutenberg's movable metal type printing press in 1453 created a communication revolution. For the first time, the masses could access books and, more importantly, increase their literacy. As literacy increased, the demand for books and paper increased.
In 1798, Nicholas Robert is credited with a hand-cranked device that would make paper on a continuous revolving screen, which was commercialized by the Fourdrinier brothers in England. Papermaking would continue to evolve through advancements made in Europe and the US.
However, it was not until about 1900 that mass-produced paper could be made economically. Soon newspapers, books, and magazines flourished, and demand for writing paper grew exponentially.
Letterpress, lithography, flexography, and rotogravure printing grew to meet the overwhelming demand for printed matter. At the same time, new packaging designs — which utilize paper in their construction — created new markets. The demand for paper packaging products continues as a major segment of paper consumption.
Today, we are in the sunrise of the electronic age as computers litter our landscape in almost every phase of our working environment. It wasn't too long ago that the coming of the electronic age was predicted to have dire effects on the use of paper. In fact, the opposite has occurred.
With computers everywhere, there are printers everywhere. The demand for printers continues to grow, and so does the demand for paper. The predictions for the demise of paper demand failed to appreciate the fact that the average person wants a “hard copy.”
The predictions may prove to have validity in the long term, but that time is not now. For the foreseeable future, paper demand for printing will parallel growth of office copiers, while conventional printing is expected to show relative stability.
However, some publishers and on-line retailers already allow you to order and download a book to your computer and electronic display rather than rely on a printed copy. Although you will have the option to print that copy on your personal computer, the expectations are that you will use the electronic display book to view the pages you desire. The driving force here is better economics and speed of delivery.
These changes will be profound. Display devices in every form will replace printed matter. Paper and the written word likely will continue into the next century, but the demand for high-tech communication will dominate growth in display devices and materials.
Dr. Richard M. Podhajny has been in the packaging and printing industry for more than 30 years. Contact him at 267/695-7717; firstname.lastname@example.org.