A Brief History of Carpet
By Steve Gillman
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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