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A Brief History of Carpet

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Carpeting is essentially an extension of the rug industry, which goes back thousands of years. The "Pazyryk Carpet," excavated in 1949 by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko is believed to be 6,000 to 7,000 years old. Although it was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, it's believed to have been made by Armenian craftsmen. There is also evidence that wool was used to make rugs as far back as 9,000 years ago in western Asia.

Carpet traditionally is made on a loom in a similar fashion to any woven cloth. Today the process is much more mechanized, of course. This has meant that it requires less labor, so it is also much less expensive now relative to average incomes. It is no longer a privilege of the wealthy to have carpeted homes.

According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, the first woven carpet mill in the United States was in Philadelphia. It was opened in 1791 by William Sprague. Several other carpet manufacturers started in the early 1800s, all in New England states. One of the longest-lived of these early carpet makers was the Beattie Manufacturing Company, which continued its operations in Little Falls, New Jersey until 1979.

The first power looms were invented for making cloth in the late 1700s, and in 1839 Erastus Bigelow built similar looms for making carpet. They originally operated on water power. Making the entire process more automated brought the cost of production down dramatically. The Bigelow Carpet Company factory in Clinton Massachusetts made various types of carpeting and sold them at prices that were previously unseen with those produced on hand looms. This is when carpets started to become more common in middle class homes. Incidentally, in 1861 Bigelow became one of the founders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Carpet making technology developed throughout the 1800s and many new companies entered the industry. In 1929 the largest manufacturer of carpeting and rugs in the world was Alexander Smith and Sons in Yonkers, New York. Shortly after that the industry center began to shift from the northeast to the hills of northwestern Georgia. Bedspreads and other woven products gave way to carpet making as the first mechanized tufting machine was introduced in the town of Dalton.

Up until the 1950s tufted carpets were almost all made from cotton. Nylon, polyester, acrylics, rayon and wool were introduced over subsequent years by the carpet companies in Dalton. Nylon, in part because it is more durable and cheaper than wool, now dominates the market. Tufted carpeting went from about 10% of the market in 1950 to over 90% today.

Today, Alexander Smith, Bigelow, and Karastan are all divisions of Mohawk Industries, which is headquartered in this part of Georgia. Most recently Dalton has struggled as the real estate boom of the early 2000s ended and demand for carpet declined. But Mohawk Industries is still the world's largest maker of flooring products, and companies in Dalton, which is known as the "Carpet Capital of the World," produce over 70% of the entire world supply of carpet.

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