Last Updated Aug 9, 2017 · Written by Rob Schneider
Most of us are familiar with wall-to-wall carpets. We don't even think about when they were invented. Surprisingly, wall-to-wall carpets came into vogue less than 70 years ago. The first wall-to-wall carpets were made in the United States. Originally, wall-to-wall carpets were made of wool or cotton, but by 1954, synthetic fibres started replacing wool and cotton. Let's trace the history of carpets and discover how we came to have the wall-to-wall carpets we are so familiar with today.
Before the industrial age, carpets were made by hand. The oldest carpet found so far is the Pazyryk carpet. It was discovered in a burial mound in 1949 and dated to be at least 2500 years old. It is believed to be the oldest pile carpet and is now on display in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. There was nothing unsophisticated about the Pazyryk carpet, either. It was adorned with 24 cross-shaped figures, 28 men on horseback and 24 deer.
The Pazyryk carpet may not be the world's oldest carpet, but is arguably the world's oldest pile carpet. No one knows when the first carpets were made because many of them were made of natural fibres that broke down over the centuries. Thousands of years ago, the earliest carpets were probably fairly roughly made, but as rug makers perfected their craft, rugs and larger carpets became sought after items. To make rug making easier, the hand loom was invented. Early hand looms were fairly simple, but became more complex as the art of rug making evolved.
Rug makers started dyeing yarn and producing intricate patterns. Probably the best known rugs are Persian rugs, but they represent just one style. Many countries have their own unique styles of rugs.
Sisal, seagrass and coir are three types of carpets that are known for their toughness. They are often not dyed, but have intricate patterns. They are becoming increasingly popular and come from Indonesia and other areas of the Asia-Pacific region.
Moroccan rugs have their own unique appearance and are becoming popular additions to the home. They come in a variety of styles, but often have bright colours and intricate designs.
Mexican and South American rugs are also popular. Like Moroccan rugs, they can have bright colours and come in designs that reflect the lifestyle of Mexico and South American countries.
These types of rugs have two things in common. They reflect the lifestyle of the people of the region and almost all of them are still handmade.
For centuries, rugs and larger carpets were made by hand on looms. During the Industrial Revolution, more modern carpet making techniques were introduced. The first power loom was invented by Ernastus Bigelow in 1839. Over time, Bigelow acquired 35 patents between 1839 and 1876. In 1877, he invented the first broadloom carpet.
That may have been the beginning of the carpet boom. In 1878, the Shuttleworth brothers purchased four looms from England and began producing carpets in New York. In 1928, Marshall Field modified an Axmaster loom and began creating "Karastan" Persian carpets. These were replicas of the Persian carpets that were so popular, but were less expensive because they were produced on a larger scale.
The first tufted bedspreads came on the market in the 1930s. These led to the invention of tufted carpets. In 1950, only 10 per cent of carpets and rugs were tufted. The other 90 per cent were woven. However, 1950 marked a change. New techniques, better dyes and printing processes led to a boom in tufted carpet sales. Early tufted carpets were made from cotton, in spite of the fact that nylon was introduced to the market in 1946. Eventually, nylon and other synthetic materials replaced cotton carpets, but it wasn't until around 1956, ten years after the introduction of nylon carpets.
Most of the evolution of machine made carpets was centred in one small area of the United States. Carpets from Dalton, Georgia today comprise over 70 per cent of the carpet industry's production. It is often called the "Carpet Capital of the World" because of its many carpet production facilities.
Having a wall-to-wall carpet was a status symbol in the 1950s. Wall-to-wall carpets were fairly expensive and around six million square metres were sold in 1951. That may seem like a lot of carpeting, but by 1968, the number was up to 400 million metres. Nylon carpets accounted for many of the sales. Nylon was less expensive than wool or cotton and required less upkeep. It was easier to clean than natural fibres and tended to be stronger.
After the tufted carpet revolution, carpet manufacturers competed with each other to come up with new carpet styles. In the 1960s, shag carpets came on the market and were almost obligatory in many homes.
Shag carpets were deep pile carpets made from loops of yarn. Sometimes shag carpets were in muted colours, but loud colours were also popular. In many ways, they defined home decor in the 1960s. They went out of fashion after people discovered how hard they were to keep clean.
In the 1970s, burnt orange was the carpet colour of choice. Carpets were not entirely burnt orange, but it was the predominant colour. Other colours gave carpets an almost abstract appearance, in keeping with the popularity of abstract art during that era.
Textured carpets were also popular in the 1970s. They would have different pile lengths and patterns. Basically, whatever carpet manufacturers came up with, people bought. The sixties and seventies were definitely boom years for wall-to-wall carpets.
The 1980s saw a change in carpet design. Consumers were becoming more accustomed to wall-to-wall carpeting. At the same time, manufacturers were coming up with new low pile designs and people had far more choices than they had earlier.
Today, neutral colours seem to be more popular than more elaborately dyed carpets. The trend towards minimalism may have something to do with it. White is hard to keep clean, but greys and beiges are fairly easy to keep clean and go well with modern house styles.
That's not to say neutrals are in every home. Some homeowners look for patterned carpets. Blocks and diamonds are popular and other homeowners like textured carpets and even shag carpets are making a comeback in some homes. Basically, carpets have been with us long enough now that we don't look for "fad" designs anymore. We choose carpets based on our personal taste and the style of our home.
Go to any carpet supplier today and you will find a dizzying array of carpet styles, textures and materials. If you want carpets in your home, you'll find the perfect carpet for every room in the house. For that matter, you may prefer natural fibre carpets like sisal, coir or seagrass. You can find these materials, too. Lay them wall-to-wall or use area rugs to highlight an area. Whatever you're looking for, you can find: even an old fashioned 1960s shag carpet.