paper-waspRene ReaumurOne of those people was a man named Rene de Réaumur who, in the 1700s, watched a species of wasp we now call the paper wasp. These insects were munching on wood. Not eating it, exactly, but chewing it up, spitting the mush back out and forming nests with it. Not pretty, Réaumur might have thought, but pretty interesting. It seemed to him that the wasps were making paper out of wood.

Somehow, Réaumur never got around to trying to imitate the wasps by making paper himself, but had stumbled upon the secret of practical papermaking: wood could be broken apart, like the other organic materials, and crafted into paper.

We still follow Réaumur’s advice and the wasps’ example, although papermaking has become a more complex and efficient process, and its products incredibly varied and advanced.

People picked up the paper challenge. One person, a man named Kellar, learned how to grind wood efficiently. Others invented new ways to separate wood fibers.

If Réaumur had written down his paper recipe – or more accurately, the wasps’ recipe – it might have looked like this: wood fiber + water + energy = paper.