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History Of Flooring

A forgotten fad: floor cloths

A similar type of floor covering is the floor cloth, which has designs painted on sturdy material. These were used in fine homes in France as far back as the 1300s. In the 1600s they became common in England. Sailors brought home portions of canvas sailcloth painted with an attractive design to adorn their dirt floors. The cloths became popular and were produced in factories in England and New England. Their popularity waned with the development of linoleum.

Early American settlers often painted tile-like patterns on their floor cloths. Thomas Jefferson had two grass-green floor cloths in his home at Monticello in Virginia, to give a natural feeling indoors.

Finding a floor by accident

Resilient floors include such pliant floor surfaces as rubber, linoleum, or vinyl. Rubber floors first appeared around 1200 and remained popular until the 1600s.

An English rubber manufacturer, Frederick Walton, noticed how linseed oil formed a leathery skin on top of paint. In 1863 he patented linoleum, still made by mixing linseed oil with powdered wood or cork (or both), resins, pigments, ground limestone, and drying agents.

Rubber, cork, and asphalt tiles were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Laying different colored tiles was a popular way to make geometric designs.

Soon an “accidental” discovery led to a floor surface that quickly replaced these soft tiles in popularity.

In the late 1800s, European researchers combined a gas called vinyl chloride in a mixture that resulted in a rigid material. No one could think of a good use for it, though.

In 1926, American inventor Dr. Waldo Semon was trying to bond rubber to metal. He tried using the vinyl chloride mixture with other chemicals. His first attempts resulted in wisps of gas and an occasional explosion. Eventually he created what we now call PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or vinyl. It was first used in shock absorbers. Later, it was used to develop synthetic tires. Used to insulate wires during World War II, it became popular as a floor covering after the war.

Today, sales of resilient flooring are second only to carpet in the United States. But you aren’t limited to just one choice. Many people prefer an easy-to-clean vinyl or tile in the kitchen or bathroom, and wood, rugs, or carpeting in other rooms.

How many different types of flooring do you have in your home?

Phrases inspired by floors

It’s hard to tell sometimes where or how a saying started, especially if it’s an old saying. Here are some theories about the sources of common expressions related to floors.

From ‘besom’ to broom

To sweep floors during the Middle Ages, the British used a ‘besom’ – a handful of twigs with the leaves attached. Besoms were often made of twigs from the ‘broom scrub,’ and so the sweeping implements came to be called ‘brooms’ around AD 1000. Superstitious people put brooms across the door of a house to ward off witches. They thought that a witch had to count every straw in a broom placed across a door before entering.

‘Snug as a bug in a rug’

Benjamin Franklin presumably invented this saying in 1772 when he used it in a letter to mean ‘the utmost contentment.’


After America’s Civil War, some greedy northerners (mostly poor whites) wanted to take advantage of southern blacks who had just been given the right to vote. They packed up their belongings in luggage made from carpets and moved south. They became known as ‘carpetbaggers

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