Even though we take plywood as a granted material, it enjoys a very long and interesting history dating back to the days of the mummies.
Some of the earliest known examples of Plywood are in furniture entombed with mummies dating from First Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. You can also find it similarly with the tombs of Chinese emperors.
Legend has it that Cleopatra presented Julius Caesar with a plywood veneered table richly decorated with inlays.
In 1797 Samuel Bentham, a British Naval Engineer applied for patents of machines to produce veneers in which he described the concept of laminating several layers of veneer with glue to form a thicker piece. This is probably the first description of what we now call plywood.
18th And 19th century
Plywood enjoyed an elite status in the 18th century. It was used to make lavish pieces of furniture hand cut by elite sawyers, possible because of the development of refined tools.
Chair using plywood, probably designed and manufactured by John Henry Belter, about 1860.
In 1867 a 107-foot long prototype elevated railway, made entirely as a moulded plywood tube, in New York.
This chair made of Plywood was designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto for the Paimio Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Finland.
German company DKW used moulded and flat plywood for the body of their affordable family cars.
Plywood played a very important role in World War II. It was used in the construction of boats, barracks, weapons, and aeroplanes.
In fact, plywood was the main material used in building Geoffrey de Havilland’s Mosquito aircraft. This “wooden wonder,” was the aircraft of its time. It flew higher and faster than any other bomber at that point, which elevated the status of plywood.
Slowly the use of plywood started in manufacturing of sewing machines, chairs, desktops and household furniture.
History of Plywood in India
The history of plywood in India is intertwined with that of the then booming tea industry, where it was used as tea chests for packing purposes. Earlier tea chests were imported from Europe in huge quantities.
Assam Saw Mill & Timber Company was the first Plywood factory in Margherita, Assam in India. It started marketing tea chests under brand name Margherita in 1920. Thereafter. another factory was set up in Khozikode, Kerala by The Standard Furniture Company Ltd, but was not as successful. The tea chests were still mainly imported from Europe and it was greatly hampered by eruption of Second World War which gave an impetus to the rise of indigenous entrepreneurs. With the help of Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, well equipped factories were set up in places like Sitapur, Bangalore, Baliapattam, Bundeli and Coach Bihar. These industries marked a significant progress in plywood production, but unfortunately with the end of World War II, import of Plywood was resumed and the newly formed industries faced major troubles to their existence. The government of India had to impose a total ban import of tea chests. This gave impetus to Plywood Industry and till 1947, there were 47 such manufacturing units in India. Until then it was mainly used in Tea packaging only, but in 1947-48, these companies diversified their product range into Block boards, Flush Door, Commercial Plywood and Decorative Plywood. After independence, the government included this industry in planned development. Indian standard Institute formulated its standard. In 1966, the industry was delicensed and later in 1971, the licensing procedure was resumed with certain changes. Till 1980, 60% of plywood was manufactured in two district of Upper Assam only.
1996, historic judgement of Supreme Court of banning cutting of forest tree gave impetus to planted timber use in plywood industry and shifted the manufacturing of plywood from Assam to other parts of India. It created two plywood manufacturing hubs, Yamunanagar in Haryana and Permbur in Kerala.