Who Invented Paper?

Egypt Hieroglyphics on Papyrus

Did you ever wondered who invented paper? Who enabled dramatic increase in the ability of our ancestors to record data and keep that knowledge safe for generations, enabling advances that defined our history?

The man who is today credited as the driving force of paper creation is none other than one of the most famous Chinese inventors Cai Lun who lived between 50 and 120 AD. He was born during the reign of the Eastern Han Dynasty in Guiyang (today known as Leiyang, Hunan), managing to slowly rise through the ranks of that court. Even though the history of paper created from the wood fibers, old rags and fishnets was commonly known in China ever since 3rd century BC, paper was regarded to be a very costly, defective and complicated to produce. What Cai Lun managed to change was to completely refine all the steps of the paper production – from ingredients, recipe, machinery, and the way the paper mix was finalized in its final state.

This happened around 105 AD after Sai became associate of the royal Consort Deng Sui. Using newly found resources he revolutionized the way paper was made, and for that effort he received some fame during his life. Sadly, he was ordered to go to prison after new Emperor managed to take the throne of China. Not wanting to die in prison, he poisoned himself in a traditional Chinese way. This move brought him much respect of following generations who remembered him fondly. Using his techniques, paper industry in chine rose to prominence in 3rd century, enabling slow expansion of the paper use all over the Asia. Eventually, secrets of papermaking were discovered by Arabs, who know well enough that Europe and North Africa did not have technology like it (Papyrus paper was dying off because of close extinction of that plant in Egypt, and European parchment was expensive and reactive to moisture).

Opened Old Book

The basic principles of Cai Lun’s papermaking techniques remained in use for more than 1500 years, all up to arrival of Industrial Revolution in Europe when new machines, chemistry, and new basic ingredients enabled creation of much cheaper, stronger, durable and versatile paper.

Even though history of paper was filled with inventors that significantly improved its production and adoption in modern world, only Cai Lun can claim the place of the man who started it all. And because of that, he will remain remembered forever.

Ilustration of Covered Bridge on Paper
Old Paper Book on Wood Table