From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The word paper derives from the Greek term for the ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was formed from beaten strips of papyrus plants. The immediate predecessor to modern paper is believed to have originated in China in approximately the 2nd century AD, although there is some evidence for it being used before this date. Papermaking is considered to be one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China, since the first pulp papermaking process was developed in China during the early 2nd century AD by the Han court eunuch Cai Lun. China used paper as an effective and cheap alternative to silk, letting them sell more silk, leading to a Golden Age.
The use of paper spread from China through the Islamic world and entered production in medieval Europe in the 13th century, where the first water-powered paper mills were built and mechanization of papermaking began. The industrial production of paper in the early 19th century caused significant cultural changes worldwide, allowing for relatively cheap exchange of information in the form of letters, newspapers and books for the first time. In 1844, both Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty and German inventor F.G. Keller had invented the machine and process for pulping wood for the use in paper making. This would end the nearly 2000-year use of pulped rags and start a new era for the production of newsprint and eventually all paper out of pulped wood.
Paper remained relatively expensive through the centuries, until the advent of steam-driven paper making machines in the 19th century, which could make paper with wood pulp. Although older machines predated it, the Fourdrinier paper making machine became the basis for most modern papermaking. Together with the invention of the practical fountain pen and the mass produced pencil of the same period, and in conjunction with the advent of the steam driven rotary printing press, wood based paper caused a major transformation of the 19th century economy and society in industrialized countries. With the introduction of cheaper paper, schoolbooks, fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers became gradually available to all the members of an industrial society by 1900. Cheap wood based paper also meant that keeping personal diaries or writing letters became universal. The clerk, or writer, ceased to be a high-status job, and by 1850 had nearly become an office worker or white-collar worker , which transformation can be considered as a part of the industrial revolution.
Unfortunately, the original wood-based paper was more acidic and more prone to disintegrate over time, through processes known as slow fires. Documents written on more expensive rag paper were more stable. Mass-market paperback books still use these cheaper mechanical papers (see below), but the more careful book publishers now use acid-free paper for hardback and trade paperback books.