The History of Carpets & Carpet Cleaning
Ever wonder how rugs and carpeting became so prevalent in our culture? We cut the rug, roll out the red carpet, sweep things under the rug, and occasionally, have the rug pulled out from under us. We even affectionately call our toddlers rug rats. An odd fascination indeed.
6,000 B.C. and earlier
The most distant ancestors of the modern carpet were probably mats of interlaced stalks and vines. By around 6,000 B.C., however, there is evidence of the shearing of sheep and goats, as well as the spinning and weaving of their wool.
carpe this… The word “carpet” derives from the Latin carpere, “to pluck” probably because carpets were made from unraveled “plucked” or gathered fabric. “Carpet” has the same Latin root as carpe diem, which literally means to “pluck” or “seize the day.”
Egypt is known to have woven carpets of linen and pieces of colorful wool fabric as early as the 3rd millenium BC. It is believed by some this art then spread throughout the Middle East and on to Mongolia and China, while others credit Central Asia, Turkestan, and China with the origination of carpets.
I’ve got good mews… and I’ve got bad news When properly cleaned and maintained, carpeting acts like a giant filter and may improve the quality of air by trapping allergy inducing dust and contaminants. However, carpets that are not cleaned correctly can actually exacerbate allergies.
The first literary reference to carpet is from the ancient greek play “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus. Red carpets traditionally mark the ceremonial routes of leaders, politicians and celebrities to this day, thus the term “roll out the red carpet.”
I can’t walk on that! During the Middle Ages, Italian merchants imported Oriental rugs to Europe, where they were generally hung on walls, rather than used as floor covering.
Age of the Pazyryk carpet, the oldest known surviving carpet found in a tomb in Southern Siberia in the 1940s.
The earliest of Turkish woven carpets were made during the Anatolian Seljuq Period (1243-1302), eight fragments of which were discovered by FR. Martin in the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya in 1905.
a little bit of heaven on earth…
Oriental carpets are usually rich with symbolism. For example, large Persian carpets often present a small-scale plan of a part of the universe: Heaven above, with Earth below. Carpets may also feature an “X” or an eight-petaled flower, which represents the Four Directions (and, by extension) the World itself.
I’d like that to go, please
The highest amount ever paid for a carpet was the Sotheby’s sale of the “Vase Carpet.” This was a mid-17th century piece from Southeast Persia which was sold for a record price of $9.6 million in June of 2013.
Edmund Henning invents a street-sweeping machine, upon which the vacuum cleaner is later based.
Philadelphia is not just the birthplace of freedom in America. William Sprague built the first woven carpet mill in Philadelphia and began the mass-production of carpets made of wool.
We’ll take our toys and go elsewhere Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, French and Walloon Protestants fled to England and Germany, where the artisans among them contributed their skills and knowledge to the development of spinning and weaving techniques.
Bissell while you work
Not only did Melville Bissell come up with the mechanical carpet sweeper shown below, he later created carpet cleaners that incorporated water and detergent. These were eventually introduced to the public in the early 1950’s.
Erastus Bigelow revolutionized the carpet industry with the power loom to weave carpets. By 1850, carpet production had tripled.
Melville Bissell, an asthmatic, invented the first successful mechanical carpet sweeper in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Bisselling” rather than “vacuuming” carpets briefly became the more popular term in the United States.
This same year, the Axminster loom was invented, allowing an unlimited range of color and incorporating all of the pile in the design in ways previous looms could not.
Where do I /park this thing?
Some vacuum cleaners in the early 20th century were large, powered by coal, and required three people to operate them. Others, such as the “Puffing Billy” had to be parked outside the building and had long hoses that were fed in through the • windows.
During WWI carpet manufacturers contributed to the war effort by creating tents and blankets.
English inventor Hubert Cecil Booth invented the first motorized vacuum cleaner. Nicknamed the “Puffing Billy,” Booth’s vacuum was gasoline-powered with piston pumps, and so large that only horses could transport it. Long tubes from the main cylinder were brought into homes and businesses through doorways and open windows to suck debris out of carpets. Needless to say he never sold his invention… he only offered vacuum cleaning services.
James Murray Spangler, an English custodian who suffered from allergies, created an electric handheld vacuum with a rotating brush and a pillowcase to collect contaminants. His invention was later sold to W.H. Hoover. To this day, people in Great Britain sometimes say that they “hoover” instead of “vacuum” their carpets.
not in MY house!…
Initially, Hoover vacuums were extremely hard to sell—not only because they were expensive, but also because potential customers refused to believe that their carpets and rugs could have accumulated as much dirt as the company claimed.
The first Karastan “Mystery Rug” was revealed to the public. Why “mystery”? American textile manufacturer and retailer, Marshall Field modified a traditional Axminster loom to create machine-made rugs woven through the back which mimicked the hand-woven method of Oriental rugs so closely it was difficult to tell them apart. The new process was so advanced, it was a “mystery” to the trade press.
marking your turf… Tufted bedspreads (commonly known as chenille) were created by Catherine Evans Whitener and originally sold by her in 1900. They became so popular by the late 1920s that tufting or “turfing” grew from a cottage industry—which helped many families local to the Dalton, GA area survive the Depression—into a mechanized phenomenon, which inspired the creation of tufted rugs as well.
The Glen Looper Foundry of Dalton, GA developed a successful mechanizing process for the production of tufted carpets and rugs by modifying standard Singer sewing machines into multi-needle machines with an attached knife to cut the loops which form the tufts. This was process used for rugs and carpets, as well as the bedspreads which started it all.
Hey, buddy, take a walk…
For the 1933-34 World’s Fair, Karastan created a large “mystery rug,” but instead of displaying it, they invited their more than 5 million visitors to walk on it. Once it was well and truly stained, they cleaned half the rug, restoring it to its original appearance to show just how résiliant the rugs can be. And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, they did it again for the 1939-40 World’s Fair-with over 9 million visitors.
With the advent of mass production, wall-to-wall carpeting, once just a luxury, becomes affordable. Soft, yet durable nylon yarns, first used during World War II for parachutes and other military supplies, were tufted into woven grid backings. These carpets were then installed by stretching the tufted backing onto thin wood strips adjacent to walls and held firmly in place with tacks. This process is still used today.
If the 1970s taught us anything, it’s that there’s no accounting for taste! With bright orange shag, among other things, it’s probably little wonder that the next generation decided (as most generations do) that they wanted to be different from mom and dad. Stone, tile, linoleum and hardwood floors became the rage in the years following the carpet boom.
size DOES matter… The American floor covering industry argues that the difference between a “rug” and a “carpet” is strictly a matter of size. Any piece smaller than 40 square feet is considered a rug while anything larger is a carpet.
Recession in ‘81 -’82 spelled the end for several smaller carpet companies and some of the larger ones, clearing the way for Shaw Industries to become the largest manufacturer in the industry by 1986.
give’m the axe…
The Axminster, that is. There are three main types of Axminster carpet still in use today—machine-woven, tufted and hand-knotted. In the traditional hand-knotted varieties, weavers will often make a deliberate mistake as a way to verify authenticity.
Four companies control more than 80% of the carpet market in the United States- three, Shaw, Mohawk and Beaulieu, in the residential market, and the fourth, Interface, dominating the niche market of modular carpet tiles (primarily a commercial application).
show we a sign
Some common carpet motifs include various medallions (heraldic qualities and amulets), Boteh (a paisley pattern named after a Persian village), Herati (fish in the pond), a tree of life (a symbol predating both Islam and Christianity representing the connection between this world and paradise), stars, “shou and fu” (symbolizing long life and good luck), animals, birds, plants, and cloud bands.
Today, a new generation has rediscovered the soft, cozy luxury of carpeting. We suspect this way have to do with cold floors in the morning. Whatever the reason, the rich history of rugs and carpeting is far from over.