Historical Background

While the exact origins of wallpaper are obscure, the first known decorative wallpaper dates back as far as the late 15th century, soon after the introduction of papermaking in Europe. Although it is generally believed that the Chinese invented wallpaper, there is no evidence of its general use in Asia any earlier than the time of its appearance in Europe. The earliest wallpapers were hand-painted or stenciled. Later, during the 17th century, decorative techniques such as block printing and flocking were adopted. At the end of the 17th century, Chinese papers, generally referred to as India papers, began to arrive in Europe. These highly prized papers were unique in design and Europeans quickly attempted to copy the designs using etched plates or woodblocks, with color applied by hand or stencil.

During the 18th century, wallpaper manufacturing became much more sophisticated and designers began to explore many more decorative possibilities. In France and England, chintz patterns, satin grounds and stripes became popular and technical advances began to make wallpaper more widely accessible. In 1785, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf invented the first machine for printing wallpaper. Shortly thereafter, Louis Robert designed a process for manufacturing endless rolls.

While the French were famous for their fine designs, the English were known for advances in the production techniques, especially in the mid-19th century with advances in machine-printed wallpaper. In the 1840s to 1860s, the work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement created a revolution in wallpaper design, characterized by flat, stylized, naturalistic patterns and rich, subdued colors.

Few important advances occurred during the next 100 years. The 1950s and '60s brought significant developments in wallpaper design and manufacture. New processes enabling designers to decorate wallpaper with photogravure and high-speed techniques were developed to replace the more traditional screen-printing and woodblock methods.

Finally, after World War II, the entire industry was revolutionized with the appearance of plastic resins - especially vinyl - which offered stain resistance, washability, durability and strength. In addition, manufacturers introduced pre-pasted, pre-trimmed and strippable wallcoverings to cater to an increasing do-it-yourself market.