In old days, long before paper was made; writing was done on the prepared skins of animals. This kind of fine leather was called parchment. But the ancient Egyptians used the pith, or soft white stuff in the middle of the stems, of the papyrus plant-a kind of grass or reed which grew on the banks of the river Nile. This pith they cut in thin strips, which they pressed together to make a smooth white sheet. The word paper comes from “papyrus”.
The Chinese and the Japanese found out how to make real paper, and made it from very early times. But the art of papermaking was brought to Spain by the Muslims in the 12th century. It was not, however, till the 17th century, that English people learnt to make paper; and not till the beginning of the 19th century that a way was found of making paper by machinery.
Paper is made from the fibres of different kinds of plants. At first, most papers were made from old pieces of cotton and linen cloth, and the best paper is still so made. Paper made in this way is called “rag-paper”. But when a great deal more paper was wanted, other things were used, such as straw, some kinds of grasses and wood. Most of the paper used today is made of wood-pulp – wood that is crushed and beaten by machinery into a soft wet mass. There are now so many books printed and newspapers published that whole forests of large trees are cut away every year to make the paper needed.
The invention of paper is almost as important as the invention of printing. For the printing press could not have spread knowledge through books, newspapers, and magazines, if there had not been cheap and easily made paper to print on. So when we speak of the great changes that the printing press has made, we must not forget that the printing press could have done little without the invention of paper.