In ancient times, there was no paper. People pressed letters into clay tablets, or wrote with ink on papyrus, made from the stem of a plant that grew in Egypt, and on parchment, made from the skin of animals.
The Chinese wrote on pages made of wood or silk. Then in the year 105, a man named Ts’ai Lun, who was a counselor to the Chinese emperor, found a way to make a writing material out of bamboo and other plants, along with fish nets and rags.
This was the material we now call paper. Paper was much easier and cheaper to make than any other writing material known, and Ts’ai Lun became rich because of his invention. But later, he angered the emperor and was forced to drink poison.
The Chinese guarded the secret of paper- making for many centuries. Then in 751, a Chinese army attacked Arabs in Central Asia. The Arabs won the battle and captured some Chinese soldiers who knew the secret of making paper.
The Arabs later brought paper to Spain, and eventually it found its way to all parts of Europe. But though it was invented about a thousand years earlier, paper did not become common in Europe until the 12th century. The oldest piece of European paper that survives today comes from the year 1102.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that paper makers found a way to make paper out of wood pulp. Today, most paper is made from wood, and only the best kinds of paper contain cotton or linen rags.
More than 280 billion pounds of paper are produced around the world each year!