You use it for school, to-do lists, diary entries, and meeting notes. The notebook is one of the greatest inventions of all time! It’s an item that’s greatly contributed to where we are in the world today.
Who thought to bind pieces of paper together? Will writing become obsolete in the tech-heavy future? It’s time to dedicate a few words to the history of notebooks!
Someday, you can look back on the many entries in your notebook and realize that your work has enabled you to acquire knowledge and habits that may soon pay off.Jack Lander, author for Inventors’ Digest
History of Notebooks Timeline
The notebook is a back-to-school staple, but it was also a must for explorers, inventors, and great thinkers. It’s had many distinct designs over the years.
Paper was invented in China. Eventually, it made its way across the Silk Road, bringing literacy, literature, and a love of books and learning all over the world.
A German man named William Rittenhouse opened the first paper mill in North America. You can still visit Rittenhouse in modern day Philadelphia.
John Tetlow received a patent for a line-drawing machine. This invention created the lines on paper, which was a lifesaver as before the lines had to tediously be drawn by hand.
The oldest known pocket diary is traced back to Lewis & Clark’s journey west. Thomas Jefferson had finalized the Louisiana Purchase and asked the explorers to take diligent notes about the new territories.
The composition notebook made its debut in France and Germany. The marble pattern was inspired by printing techniques found in early China and Japan.
Thomas W. Holley, a 24-year-old paper mill worker, used leftover scraps to make the first legal pads. His idea took off at the request of a local judge that loved the yellow paper and all the space for his notes.
William Albrecht opened the Western Tablet Company, or as it was later known “Westab,” in Missouri. The Big Chief notebooks in particular had a big popularity boost in the 60’s.
The spiral notebook is said to have made its debut. Edward Podosek, an English inventor with many patents to his name, is often credited for the invention.
Mead, a popular paper company, began mass-producing composition notebooks. The marble pattern that had started in the 1860’s was still used as it was iconic and easy to see on shelves.
E. Bryant Crutchfield created the Trapper Keeper. This notebook isn’t as popular today, but it’s often a touchpoint when it comes to feeling 80’s nostalgia.
Paper King memo notebooks were super popular. They came in bright, neon colors, sold for about a quarter each, and featured a super thick spiral ring.
Lisa Frank notebooks skyrocketed in popularity thanks to the trendy neon animals printed on the covers. The company made $60 million in sales during its peak in the 90’s.
Moleskine notebooks made their official debut in Milan. These trendy journals were rumored to have been invented long before and used by Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, but this was the first time they were sold at retail stores.
Five-Star notebooks were all the rage in classrooms across the United States. These thick notebooks were a product of Mead and came in a variety of simple colors.
Japanese students recorded their notes in Life Bank Paper Pads. The paper inside is of a super high-quality and made by the Mitsubishi Paper Mill, which has been in operation since 1799.
In the mid-2000’s, Scholastic encouraged teachers to use “My Reader’s Notebook” in their classrooms. This essential school supply also doubled as a binder with separate colored tabs.
The Rocketbook syncs straight to any file source like Dropbox or Word and transfers your notes over automatically. The best part is it can be erased after your notes are transferred, fusing handwritten and digital notes in one eco-friendly package.
You can never go wrong with a classic! The composition notebook got a modern facelift thanks to graphic designer Aron Fay who raised funds for the new “Comp” look on Kickstarter.
Newyes is a notebook that came as the result of a Kickstarter campaign. The interactive journal toggles between paper and digital writing, allowing you to search for your notes, play them back via video, and share your writings with others.
When Was Paper Invented?
Paper, or as it was known zhi, was invented around 100 BC in China during the Han Dynasty. It was created by a government official named Cai Lun who used mulberry bark and hemp to create the paper.
The Chinese people loved paper and it was used by everyone – Buddhist monks to record prayers, authors for their new books, and government agencies for tax collection. It changed writing forever and the way society was able to operate and function.
The Silk Road also helped usher paper into new territories in Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. These countries would trade livestock, crops, and other resources for the Chinese paper. Eventually, they also started creating their own versions of paper from scratch, using materials like wood, cloth, and plant fibers.
All of this paper-making resulted in widespread literacy and a love for literature. We started using paper in everything – magazines, books, ads, newspapers, notebooks… the list goes on and on. The world wouldn’t be the same without paper and other writing instruments like pens and pencils.
Did you know?
Today, paper is made from a combination of wood pulp, water, and chemicals like chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid, and sodium salts.
Who Invented the Spiral Notebook?
The exact origins of the first spiral notebooks are unknown, but experts believe they were invented in 1924. Credit goes to Edward Podosek, an English inventor who also has patents for other school supplies like ring binders and recyclable paper.
The convenience of paper being bound together wasn’t lost on other inventors and stationery companies. Shortly after the spiral notebook made its debut, Mead introduced the composition notebook and the Moleskine was created in Italy.
Even today, there are new additions in the notebook’s design that increase its functionality and staying power. It’s an item that will never be replaced, even in this increasingly digital world.
There is one truly unique human trait: people record. They record their deeds, their emotions, their thoughts, and their ideas…they have an impulse to record almost everything that enters their minds and to save it for future generations.Mark Kurlansky, author of Paper: Paging Through History
Why Is Notebook Paper Lined?
Paper is lined to give your hand a designated space to write. It’s often referred to as “ruled” paper – each line is like a ruler keeping your sentences reading straight across from left to right.
There are different ways to classify the paper in a notebook. These include:
- Wide ruled
- College ruled
- Narrow ruled
The Different Types of Lined Notebooks
Space between the lines:
Kids learning to write
Space between the lines:
High school & college students
Space between the lines:
Notebooks are made with all three types of paper, but college ruled is best for clean, easy-to-read notes. You can get this style of notebook for as low as 25 cents each during back-to-school season!
What is the Red or Pink Line on Notebook Paper For?
The red or pink line on a piece of notebook paper is used to denote the margin and separate the writing space from the 3 holes punched on the side. You should start your notes on the right of the margin as it will help keep everything nice and neat.
The red or pink line running down the side is what gives this paper its distinct look. The United States and Canada are the only ones to refer to this type of paper as “loose leaf” when it’s not bound in a notebook.
What Are the Most Famous Notebooks in History?
Many important and influential figures throughout history have carried a notebook. The most famous of which include:
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Ernest Hemingway
- Marilyn Monroe
- Thomas Edison
- Charles Darwin
- Marie Curie
- Albert Einstein
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Mark Twain
- Benjamin Franklin
Ludwig van Beethoven
The legendary composer carried journals that were full of music notes and inspiring quotes. He referred to these as “conversation notebooks” as the famously deaf musician would also use them to communicate with others.
Hemingway is famous for his love of writing in notebooks while sitting in Parisian cafés. He was once overheard saying: “I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
The actress, model, and pinup is famous for being a blonde bombshell with a tragic story. Few people know that she was also an avid writer, keeping a notebook for her acting class notes and poetry.
Over the course of his career, Edison is reported to have used over five million pages of notebook paper. He used his notebooks to sketch invention ideas, including the light bulb and phonograph.
Darwin took fourteen diaries with on his exploration of the Galapagos Islands. They show detailed notes on his research and theories on natural selection, evolution, and survival of the fittest – all of which would eventually become The Origin of the Species.
Marie Curie is a Nobel prize-winning physicist who discovered polonium and radium. She kept notebooks that are said to be radioactive due to her always having one on hand while working with chemicals. In fact, they’re currently sitting in lead-lined boxes at France’s Bibliotheque National.
The famed genius kept various notebooks for all of his calculations and invention ideas. The most famous of which is the Zurich notebook, which shows all his notes on the theory of relativity.
Leonardo da Vinci
The well-known artist kept notebooks that were written from right to left. He was a lefty who would use paper for everything, from detailed sketches of future paintings to shopping lists to, no kidding, a list of all the clothes he owned.
At the age of 21, Twain was learning how to become a “cub” pilot on a steamboat. His instructor was tired of him forgetting instructions and made him get a pocket notebook. After that, the author started keeping a notebook with him at all times.
Before yoga and meditation were popular, Franklin was working on his own personal improvement. Our founding father kept a notebook that consisted of advice on how to live 13 virtues, including sincerity, justice, and cleanliness.
Promotional Notebooks: A Brief History
Back to school shopping didn’t really emerge as a big moneymaker at department stores until the mid-1970s. With so many people flocking to buy new supplies, it was the perfect time to start advertising with promotional notebooks.
Coca-Cola was one of the many brands capitalizing on back-to-school season. In the 1990s, they offered these branded spiral notebooks to soda lovers of all ages. Now a ton of companies are advertising with their own custom notebooks. Taco Bell even has an entire “back to school” section available in their online store.
What Are Digital Notebooks?
Digital notebooks are interactive tablets that allow you to record notes via a compatible stylus. They’re super popular for classrooms and modern offices.
As the world becomes more and more digital, many people are starting to keep their notes and writings on a laptop or tablet. There are even notepad apps available for your smartphone.
Still, that doesn’t mean those spiral, Moleskine, and composition notebooks are going to end up in the trash. There will always be room in our hearts for old-fashioned pen and paper.
Stats for Success
Nearly 75% of working professionals prefer to take meeting notes with pen and paper.
Mead sells over $100 million in notebooks every year.
About 2.2 million tons of paper were made in the U.S. every year in the 20th century.
The Bottom Line
Whether it’s yellow, college-ruled, leather-bound or digital, a notebook has come in handy and had a personal role in our lives for years. Brands have even used them in their advertising, and they’ve even contributed to many great inventions and works of art. The notebook deserves its time in the spotlight!
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