Short History of Carpet

Friday August 28, 2009
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Carpet history dates back to the Stone Age when primitive man wove a sort of rude material from the wool of goats and sheep. The earliest physical evidence of a carpet dates to 1480 BC with the discovery of an Egyptian fresco. Further east, a rug was discovered in Outer Mongolia believed to have been made somewhere around 464 BC. Woven with pile and a Ghiordes knot, it bears all the hallmarks of an Anatolian or Persian carpet of today.

Almost 1500 years later Marco Polo the great explorer witnessed the making of rugs in Central Anatolia. It is presumed the technique traveled from there across what was then Asia Minor, all the way west through what is now China, North India and Iran to Morocco. There is evidence of spindles used for weaving carpets dating back to the Indus valley civilization of the 11th century in what is now Pakistan.

Carpet from the Orient were brought back to Europe by the crusaders in the 11th century. European paintings dating back to the 15th century illustrate Turkish carpets from which it would be safe to assume that carpets were part of a flourishing trade. In the 16th century Carpets were imported from the middle–east into England.

It is believed the carpet industry in England began about that time, started by Flemish Calvinists fleeing religious persecution. These were an amalgam of Indo–Persian or Anatolian style of manufacture blended with European designs. William Sprague was the founder of the carpet industry in the United States, when he opened the first woven carpet mill in 1791 in Philadelphia. Others soon followed in the early part of the 19th century.

The industry was redefined by Erastus Bigelow with his invention of the power loom for carpet weaving. Bigelow made carpet progress his life's work being awarded with 35 separate patents. He introduced the first broadloom carpet in 1877.

Rapid developments followed with the manufacture of mechanized carpets, among them the Wilton by the Hartford Carpet Company in 1849 and Royal Axminster by Alexander Smith & Sons. The latter went on to become the world's largest manufacturer of rugs and carpets by 1929, the year of the Great Depression. In 1928 the Karastan rug mill introduced the public to the first Karastan rugs which were a machine–made rendition of the traditional hand–woven Oriental rugs. These three companies were amalgamated into what is now known as Mohawk Industries of Georgia and continue to run as separate divisions.

Dalton, Georgia, is called the carpet capital of the world. Its humble beginnings started with a Dalton woman recreating a hand–crafted bedspread that she received as a wedding gift. From this grew a home industry that helped many a family through the depression. With competition and the introduction of minimum wage laws, these spreads began to be machine–made to reduce costs.

From 1947 onwards, man–made fibers like rayon, polyester and acrylics were introduced in Dalton which soon replaced cotton, the traditional material of which carpets were produced. A milestone in the industry was the development of continuous filament nylon yarn. Such yarn brought about a revolution in carpet manufacture with the production of luxury durable carpets, akin to wool, at a fraction of the cost. In 1950 only 10% of all carpets were tufted and 90% woven. Today the tufted number has escalated to 90% with woven carpets accounting for less than 3% of production. Dalton continues to take pride of place as the epicenter of the world carpet trade.

The carpet industry broke the billion dollar barrier in 1963 and has never looked back since.

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