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Modern paper is a thin sheet of (mostly) wood fibres pressed together. People write on paper, and books are made of paper. Paper can absorb liquids such as water, so people can clean things with paper.
Modern paper is normally made from wood pulp. Wood is ground up and mixed with water and other chemicals to make a thin liquid called "paper pulp". Paper pulp can be bleached to make paper more white, and dyes can be added to make colored paper. This pulp is pressed into sheets of paper. When the sheets are dry, they are cut into pieces of paper.
Sometimes paper is made heavier and more glossy (shiny) by adding clay, and by 'milling' it. Milling is done by squeezing the paper through a series of rollers. Sometimes paper is made from used or waste paper: this is recycling.
History of paper
Writing started long before the invention of paper. People wrote on many kinds of material. They wrote on cloth, on stone walls, on wood. In Mesopotamia the Sumerians wrote on clay tablets, many of which have survived today. In Europe, people wrote on vellum.
Many centuries ago – as early as the 3rd millennium BC (that's over 2000 BC) – people in Egypt made a kind of paper from the papyrus plant. This is where the word 'paper' comes from. The people of Greece and Rome learned to do this too. The Romans wrote on parchment (made from animal skin), on waxed tablets and on wood (see Vindolanda).
In China 105 AD, the eunuch Cai Lun told his Emperor he had made paper. They had previously used bamboo and silk. The material used in this ancient paper included cotton rags, hemp, various plant fibres, and old fish nets. The oldest existing paper with writing on it was found in the ruins of a watchtower in the Great Wall of China. It dates to about 150 AD.p5 Even earlier paper (but with no writing on it) has been claimed: "The oldest surviving piece of paper in the world is made of hemp fibers, discovered in 1957 in a tomb near Xian, China, and dates from between the years 140 and 87 BC". Paper-making was regarded by the Chinese as so valuable that they kept it secret as long as they could.
Spread of paper
People in Japan learned how to make paper with fibers of the mulberry tree, around 610 AD. This is called Japanese paper or Washi. The Chinese invention spread to India, and then to the Middle East, and then to Italy.
An opportunity occurred after The Battle of Talas in 751. Then an Arab army captured soldiers of the Chinese. There were some paper makers among the captured soldiers. From them, paper-making spread throughout the Islamic world. In 757, a paper mill was built at Samarkand. People learned to use linen as paper raw material and to use starch made from flour as an additive.
The Italians used hemp and linen rags. In 1276 the first Italian paper mill was built at Fabriano and, until the 14 century, Italy was a paper supplier in Europe. In 1282 the first watermark was introduced in Bologna.
Paper was hard to make, and it cost a lot of money. In the 19th century, new machines were made that could make paper out of wood fibres (instead of the hand-made rag paper). This was conceived in France 1798, but the machines were invented in England. The first one was in use by 1812. It helped to make paper cheap enough for everyone to buy. Around the same time, other inventions were made, like the pencil, the fountain pen, and a printing press that used steam power. Because of these new things, it was easy for people to write letters, to buy books and newspapers, and to keep records of what they did.
Today, some of the largest paper-producing countries are USA, Canada, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Paper is produced in large factories called paper mills. They produce hundreds of thousands of tons of paper each year.
Uses of paper
Paper is often used for money. Paper used for money is often made in very special ways, to make it hard for people to print their own money. A piece of paper money is called a banknote, a bill, or a note.
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