History of Carpet

When it comes to thinking about carpet, we tend to only think about the pros, cons, the colors, styles and materials we can choose from. But, we rarely stop and think about the history of carpet or where it comes from. The carpet industry has changed and evolved over the course of time with the progress of how it’s made and also the materials used. So, now with all this in mind, let’s get into a little history lesson on the growth of the U.S. carpet industry!

The First Carpet

The very first carpet were rugs made from sheep wool or goat hair. They came onto the scene as early as 2,000 or 3,000 B.C. Carpets are believed to have originated somewhere in the Middle East, although exactly where is still unknown. These early carpets were primarily used to make sitting on the ground more comfortable.

Photo courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and tedium.co

The oldest known carpet is the Pazyryk carpet dated back to 5th century B.C. It was pulled from the tomb of a Scythian Prince in the Pazyryk Valley of Siberia by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko in the late 1940’s. Rudenko believed that the carpet was a part of the Achaemenid Empire, but the actual source of it is still unknown. The reason it survived 25 centuries was because the grave site was robbed and left open, causing the carpet to turn into a block of ice which helped preserve it until it was discovered. Also, the images on it tell a story of the Scythian people. They were known as excellent horsemen with an empire ranging from Eastern Europe to Western Asia. The images woven in the carpet are of griffins, deer and riders on horseback.

Carpet Industry in the U.S.

One of Philadelphia’s Carpet Mills
Photo courtesy of “Textile Industries of Philadelphia” by James Macfarlane and George W. B. Hicks

The history of carpet in the United States begins with William P. Sprague, who started the first carpet mill in Philadelphia in 1791. He was also asked to make the carpet for the Senate and for President Washington’s residence. Other mills then started to open during the early 1800’s in New England. One of the mills was called Beattie Manufacturing Company in Little Falls, New Jersey and operated until 1979.

Bigelow Carpet Company

Photos courtesy of Today in Science History & backsideofamerica.blogspot.com

In 1839, a man named Erastus Bigelow reshaped the carpet industry by inventing the power loom to weave carpets, which can now be found in the Smithsonian Institution. This invention doubled carpet production during its first year of creation, then tripled by 1850. Erastus continued his life with many more inventions that he received about 35 patents for and even introduced the first broadloom carpet in 1877.

The Creation of Mohawk Carpet Mills

A year after Bigelow brought us the broadloom carpet, four brothers came from England with 14 looms and established manufacturing facilities known as the Shuttleworth Brothers Company in Amsterdam, New York. To add more to this growing industry, they introduced a new carpet in 1905 called Karnak Wilton. It was immediately popular and to keep up with the flood of sales, they had to construct a new, bigger building just for that carpet. Then, in 1920, the Shuttleworth brothers merged with another Amsterdam-based carpet manufacturer named McCleary Wallin & Crouse. They decided to call the new joint company Mohawk Carpet Mills because of the Mohawk River that flows through the city.

The ”Mystery Rug” and the Start of Karastan Carpets

Marshall Field
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com

While all of the popular activity was going on up north, the activity down south was about to steal the thunder. In South Carolina, retailer Marshall Field, of Marshall Field & Company, who was also a textile manufacturer, created something no one had ever heard of before—an Oriental rug that was machine woven instead of hand woven. This risky chance he took really paid off when Wannamaker’s of New York department store took the opportunity to introduce it to the public in 1928. The new Karastan carpet, nicknamed the “Mystery Rug” even made an appearance at two World Fairs where tens of thousands of people got to see, and even walk on, the beautiful creation.

And because so many people walked on it, of course it became very dirty. Which gave the Karastan company the perfect opportunity to clean it and show everyone how well it can hold up to an incredible amount of foot traffic. Seeing this changed the nickname from the “Mystery Rug” to the “Wonder Rug.” And this was just the start of the amazing Karastan brand we know and love today.

The Beginning of the Tufted Carpet Industry

Photos courtesy of carpet express.com and textile-network.com

We’re just going to turn back time a little bit. Around the turn of the century, a young Dalton, Georgia woman, Catherine Evans Whitener had recreated a bedspread in a hand-crafted pattern that she had seen, for a wedding present. The way she did this was by sewing thick cotton yarns with a running stitch into unbleached muslin, then clipped the ends of the yarn so then would fluff out, then finally washed the whole spread in hot water so the yarns would hold while shrinking the fabric. It immediately got attention and the demand for them became so great, that she had teams of local people as her staff to help her fill the orders for 10 to 25 cents per spread.

Photo courtesy of georgiaencyclopedia.com

The term that the nearly 10,000 tufters used to describe the process was “turfin.” The start of this tufting helped many families survive the depression, and it also caught the attention of Wannamaker’s (who as you can see, has wonderful taste), which then led to the wonderful popularity of Chenille bedspreads. This also gave Dalton, Georgia the name “The Bedspread Capital of the World.” Later on, tufting transitioned to carpeting and experienced incredible growth as it led to many different carpet shops opening up. Dalton is still the top carpet area of the country, which helped give it the new name of “The Carpet Capital of the World.”

Carpet Industry Today

Despite all of the challenges or the modern age, the U.S. carpet industry is still the leading provider of carpeting worldwide. The major carpeting manufacturers still going strong are Shaw Industries and Mohawk still head quarted in northwest Georgia, who have also moved into the production and distribution of other flooring surfaces like tile, hardwood, vinyl and laminate. Even with all of the different flooring materials to choose from today, carpet is still the single most popular flooring choice, as a results of carpet’s ongoing history and the new technology that continues to come out of Dalton to improve stain resistance, durability, color, softness and more.

Karastan, Mohawk and Shaw carpeting available at Avalon Flooring

So now, when you look down at your carpet, you can think about all the hard work that has gone into creating the beauty, comfort and durability that you and your feet love.


At Avalon Flooring, we want to make sure you’re happy from your first step in our showroom to your first step on your new flooring—and as your partner in home design, we’ll be there every step along the way. Consider us your “One-Stop Shopping” destination for all things flooring…(and window treatments)!

Our design consultants are equipped with the knowledge to guide you through the wide selection of products we offer, and our expert installation team is professionally trained to make sure everything gets installed the way you envision. We know your home is an expression of your sense of style, and we’re here to make sure you’ll be proud of it for years to come.

If you have any questions, please email us.