Today, when we build a house, one of the first things we do is go to flooring stores and consider what type of flooring we want for our space. We walk into a home and look at the floor tiles; we comment on the carpeting; we admire the stone flooring; we go to flooring stores and get ideas for upgrading our own. But human beings didn’t always have flooring like this.
The first floors were simply a patch of ground. This was especially the case in climates where it was warm enough year-round that no one really cared about having cold feet on a tile floor. Dirt is obviously an inexpensive flooring surface, but occasionally hay or straw would be tamped down on the floor to create a surface. Over time, the tamped down straw could become almost as hard as cement. We are probably lucky we didn’t live in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was commonplace in some regions to simply throw household waste down on the floor and walk all over it. It was the Europeans who first used mint as a household deodorizer. Mint would be thrown across the floor in order to cover the smell of human and animal waste. As the mint was stepped on it released scent. Some regions even used colored sand, colored rice powder, and flower petals to create designs on their dirt floors.
The First Flooring
If you don’t count hay and sand as a kind of flooring, then it was really the Egyptians, with their stone construction, who had the first recognizable floors about 5,000 years ago. They used both stone and brick as well as colored tiles to create patterns. The Greeks made pebble mosaics, and this practice spread throughout ancient Europe, although primarily for the upper class. It was during the time of the Roman Empire that engineers realized stone floors could be heated. The Romans would build a small basement under the floor. They would put in a vent on one end and a fire on the opposite end. Heat and smoke traveling from the fire to the vent would heat the stone floor above it. Ceramic tiles were also used by the Romans, but after the fall of the Roman Empire tile floors disappeared in Europe. Turkey, the Middle East, and the Netherlands picked up tiles once again in the 17th century.
Earliest Wood Floors
If you go to flooring stores today will see an incredible number of choices when it comes to wood flooring. The first time we hear of wood flooring is during the Middle Ages. Rough planks would be laid across the floor, sanded, and then rubbed with stone to make them smooth. Sometimes stains would be added to create patterns on the floor.
If you’re wondering how rugs and carpets developed, the oldest rug we’ve ever found was discovered in Siberia back in the 1940s. It seems to have been made about 400 BC. There is some evidence to suggest that Egypt, Mesopotamia, and parts of Asia were weaving rugs before that, but rugs don’t last so we have no definitive proof. The Chinese, the Romans, and the Persians all used rugs extensively during the Roman era and after. Early American settlers made floor cloths covered in attractive designs.
Some Happy Accidents
It’s not often you find an excellent flooring material by accident. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people were experimenting with various types of resins for flooring. In the late 19th century, researchers combined a gas in a way that resulted in a very rigid material. It was cool, but no one knew what to do with it. It was not until 1926 that American Dr. Waldo Semon was experimenting with bonding rubber and metal. He used this same gas, combined with other chemicals, and accidentally created vinyl. Today, vinyl flooring is easy to clean and durable.
We’ve come a long way since those first dirt floors. Thankfully, we can go down to flooring stores and choose from among many excellent options to have the perfect floor for our homes.