Cities of Iran: Yazd


The city of Yazd’s first mention in historic records predate it back to around 3000 years B.C. when it was related to by the name of Ysatis, and was then part of the domain of Medes, an ancient settler of Iran.

In the course of history due to its distance from important capitals and its harsh natural surrounding, Yazd remained immune to major troops’ movements and destruction from wars, therefore it kept many of its traditions, city forms and architecture until recent times.

During the invasion of Genghis Khan in the early 1200’s A.D. Yazd became a safe haven and home for many artists, intellectuals and scientists fleeing their war ravaged cities around Persia.

Yazd was visited by Marco Polo in 1272, who described it as a good and noble city and remarked its silk production. Isolated from any approach by a huge tract of monotonous desert, the vibrancy of Yard is invariably a surprise.

Wind Towers of Yazd

Although more often described as the entrance to a now non-existent bazaar, the chief function of this building known as a Tekyeh, and the square before it, was to host the Taiiyeh, a cycle of passion plays commemorating the martyrdom of the third Imam, Hossein, which take place once a year during the mourning month of Moharram. The site dates from the fifteenth century arid the efforts of its eponymous builder, Amir Jalal Al-Din Chakhmagh, governor of Yard.

However, what remains to be seen today is this nineteenth century tiled portal, built as a grandstand from which the plays could be watched.

For a brief period, Yazd was the capital of Atabakan and Mozaffarid dynasties (14th Century A.D.). During Qajar Dynasty(18th Century A.D.) it was ruled by the Bakhtiari Khans.

The city of Yazd is located in the eastern part of central Iran situated on the high, desert plateau that forms much of the country. Amidst the immense desert, Yazd retains its sterling of old in religion, traditions and architecture. Recognized by UNESCO as holding one of the oldest architecture all over the world.

Masjed-e Jame (Jame Mosque, 14th century)

The word Yazd means, feast and worship, The city of Yazd has resisted the modern urbasisation changes and maintained its traditional structure. The geographical features of this region have made people developed special architectural styles. For this reason, in the older part of the city most houses are built of mud-bricks and have domed roofs. These materials served as insulation preventing heat from passing through.

The existence of special ventilation structures, called Badgirs, on the roofs is a distinctive feature of the architecture of this city (A Badgir is a high structure on the roof under which, in the interior of the building, there is a small pool). Therefore, Yazd has presented its stable identity at the foothills of the 4000 meter Shir Kooh.

The Jame Mosque (Friday Mosque) crowned by a pair of minarets, the highest in Persia, the portal’s facade is decorated from top to bottom in dazzling tile work, predominantly blue in colour. Within there is a long arcaded court where, behind a deep-set south-east Ivan, is a sanctuary chamber. This chamber, under a squat tiled dome, is exquisitely decorated with faience mosaic: its tall faience Mihrab, dated 1365, is one of the finest of its kind in existence.

The Mosque was largely rebuilt between 1324 and 1365, and is one of the outstanding 14th century buildings in Persia. The tile work has recently been skilfully restored and a modern library built to house the mosque’s valuable collection of books and manuscripts.

Zoroastrians have always been populous in Yazd. Even now roughly ten percent of the town’s population adhere to this ancient religion, and though their Atashkadeh (Fire Temple) was turned into a mosque when Arabs invaded Iran, a dignified new fire temple was inaugurated thirteen hundred years later.

Atashkadeh (Fire Temple)

This Atashkadeh (Fire Temple) intitates meet there, but nobody apart form the Moubad (Grand Priest), a descendant of the Magi, reciting the Avesta, has access to the Moubad-e Moubadan (Saint of Saints) where for the past 3000 years a fire burns in a brazen vessel. The fire itself is a representation of what is good.

Being located beside the central mountains, far from the sea, adjacent to the kavir and in the shadow rainy region, Yazd has a climate which mostly resembles dry desertic climate. Little rain along with high water evaporation, relatively low dampness, heat and great temperature changes are among the factors making this province, one of the driest parts of Iran. The only moderating climatic factor is height and so, there is a pleasant climate dominant in Shirkuh heights.

Cities of Iran: Bandar Abbas


Bandar Abbas (previously called Gameron or Qamerun) is the capital of Hormozagan province, located in southern Iran. Bandar Abbas Port is in the middle of the Strait of Hormoz linking the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Oman, and is located 500km to the south of Kermanconnected by excellent road and Railroad. It has an international airport with regular flights to other states of Persian Gulf.

Bandar Abbas was named after the Shah Abbas I the Great of Safaviddynasty who founded the port in 1623 after his naval victory over the Portuguese.

During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Bandar Abbas was developed as the country’s major commercial port to replace Khorramshahr, which lies at the northern end of the Persian Gulf and which had been captured and occupied by Iraqi forces.

Indian Temple in Bandar Abbas

By the 1990s, about 75 percent of Iranian imports through the Persian Gulf were off-loaded at Bandar Abbas. Next to the berths for international cargo ships there are docks for local fishing industry, a large shipyard for repairing and building ships, and naval facilities.

Bandar Abbas’s major industries include textile, fishing, oil refinery, aluminum and steel. This city has mining products like chromium, red oxide, salt, and sulfur, which are mainly for export. A major natural gas field surrounds the offshore island of Hengam, and another nearby island, Qeshm, has been developed as a free trade zone.

As the provincial capital, Bandar Abbas is also a local administrative center for several central government agencies and offices. The city is connected to Tehran and the rest of the country by air, rail, and road routes. Bandar Abbas is a modern city with few public tourist sites, although its bazaar is a popular attraction for shoppers. The island of Qeshm, across from Bandar Abbas in the Strait of Hormoz, has several old mosques, shrines, and cemeteries.

From 1793 to 1868, Iran leased Bandar Abbas to Oman. Bandar Abbas was a small fishing port of about 17,000 people in 1955, prior to initial plans to develop it as a major harbor. By 2001, it had grown into a major city. It has a population of 360,280 (2001 estimate).

Cities of Iran: Shiraz


Shiraz is the capital of Fars province, one of the most beautiful, historical cities in the world. Farsi (Persian or Parsi) the language of Ancient Fars (Pars), has become the official language of Iran (Persia).

Shiraz with more than 850,000 inhabitants situated in southwestern Iran, in the inland around 200 km from the Persian Gulf, at an elevation of 1,800 metres above sea level.

Different people have lived in the Fars province such as the Aryans, the Samis and the Turks, who worked together to form the Iranian culture.

The first Capital of Fars, some 2500 years ago, was Pasargad. It was also the capital of Achaemenid King Cyrus the Great. The ceremonial capital of his successor, Darius I (or Darius the Great), and his son Xerxes, was Persepolis. Today, only the ruins of these two capitals remain. Stakhr was another capital of Fars. It was established by the Sassanids and lasted until Shiraz finally assumed the role of the regional capital.

Shiraz is also the birthplace and resting place of the great Persian poets Hafez and Saadi. There are two remarkable monuments in Shiraz. One is dedicated to Hafez, the master of Persian lyrical poetry. The other one is dedicated to Sa’adi, the author of the famous Golestan, a book of sonnets called the Garden of Roses.

Masjid-e Vakil

According to Islamic historians, Shiraz came into existence only after the Arab conquest of Iran. The Arab invasion, in fact, contributed to its importance and by the 13th century, Shiraz had grown into one the largest and most popular Islamic cities of the era. Shiraz lies spread out like an immense garden on a green plain at the foot of the Tang Allah-o-Akbar Mountains.

The most interesting buildings in Shiraz are located in the old part of the town. Among them are about a dozen mosques, some with bulb- shaped domes, and others with pear shaped domes and cupolas. These mosques are mostly scattered in among the old houses.

The Masjid-e-Vakil (the Regent Mosque) has an impressive portal containing faience panels in floral designs with various shades and colors on each side. The northern iwan (verandah) is decorated with shrubs and flowers, mainly rose bushes. The ceiling in Mihrab Chamber (altar) is covered with small cupolas resting on twisted columns. Vakil Bazaar, which is close by, was built by Karim Khan Zand. Here silversmiths and jewelers still apply their trades of exquisite inlay work. Persian carpets and other traditional Persian handicrafts may also be purchased in the Vakil Bazaar.

About 50 km. Northwest of Shiraz, at the foot of the rahmat Mountains, one encounters the vast platform and remains of Persepolis, the grand ceremonial Capital built by Darius I (Darius the Great) and his successors some 2500 years ago. Archeologists are still combing through the debris and ashes that have covered Persepolis since Alexander the Great destroyed it in 330 BC. Most of the structures have already been revealed.

Tomb of Cyrus The Great in Pasargad

Pasargad is located about 77 km away from Persepolis. It was built by Cyrus the Great. Among the interesting sites at Pasargad is a stone platform 80 m. long and 18 m. wide. It is believed to have been the foundation of a palace. Close by are the ruins of a building called the Prison of Solomon which was probably a fire temple.

The most important monument in Pasargad is undoubtedly the tomb of Cyrus the Great. It has seven broad steps leading to the sepulcher, which measures 534m. in length by 531m in width and has a low and narrow entrance. When Alexander the Great looted and destroyed Persepolis, he paid a visit to the tomb of Cyrus. It is recorded that he commanded Aristobulus, one of his warriors, to enter the monument. Inside he found a golden bed, a table set with drinking vessels, a gold coffin, some ornaments studded with precious stones and an inscription of the tomb, which reads:

“Passer-by, I am Cyrus the Great, I have given the Persians an empire and I have ruled over Asia.
So do not envy me for this tomb.”

Cities of Iran: Esfahan

Esfahan is one of the oldest cities of Iran with the 1,750,000 population located 414 km south of Tehran and 481 km north of Shiraz. This 2500 years old city served as Persia’s capital from 1598 to 1722.

Esfahan was a crossroad of international trade and diplomacy, and therefore was a kaleidoscope of resident languages, religions, and customs. The city is known for its silver filigree and metal work.

This city is renowned not only for the abundance of great historical monuments, but also for its Life-Giving River, The Zayandeh-Rood, which has given the city an original beauty and a fertile land. Esfahan is filled with old gardens and some of the best sights in Iran.

In the Arsacides (Parthians) era, Esfahan was the center and capital city of a wide province, which was administered by Arsacide governors.

In Sassanids time, Esfahan was governed by “Espoohrans” or the members of seven noble Iranian families who had important royal positions, it played a residencial role for these noble families as well. Moreover, in this period Esfahan was a military center with strong fortifications. This city was occupied by Arabs after final defeat of Iranians.

A view of Esfahan, Khajou Bridge (Pol-e Khajou)

After Islam, Esfahan was under domination of Arabs, like other cities of Iran, till the early 10th century A.D., and it was paid attention only by Caliph Mansour. In the reign of Malekshah Saljooghi, Esfahan was again selected as capital and began another golden age. In this period, Esfahan was one of the most thriving and important cities of the world.

This city was conquered by Mongols in 13th century A.D. and they massacred the people. After the invasions of Mongols and Taymour, as the result of its suitable geographic situation, Esfahan flourished again especially in Safavid time, which developed considerably.

After selection of Esfahan as capital by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) who unified Persia it reached to its pinnacle of briskness. Esfahan had parks, libraries and mosques that amazed Europeans, who had not seen anything like this at home. The Persians called it Nisf-e-Jahan, half the world; meaning that to see it was to see half the world.

Esfahan became one of the world’s most elegant cities. In its heyday it was also one of the largest with a population of one million; 163 mosques, 48 religious schools, 1801 shops and 263 public baths.

Decline of Safavid dynasty by Mahmood Afghan and conquest of Esfahan a 6 month siege, caused a degeneration period for this city. In Afsharieh and Zandieh times it flourished again but during Qajars reign, due to choosing Tehran as capital, Esfahan began to decline once more.

Masjid-e Jome (Friday Mosque)

Esfahan, regarding its historical and geographic conditions, was paid attention during Pahlavi time and some endeavors were made for repair and restoration of historical monuments. Moreover, Esfahan and the province redeveloped and industrialized rapidly. During last two decades, Esfahan developed with a very high rate of acceleration from urban development point of view, highly observing restoration of historical monuments.

Today, Esfahan is a major industrial center and also is one of the important tourism centers of Iran and the world.

Cities of Iran: Hamadan

Hamadan (Hamedan) is situated 336 km south west of Tehran on the slopes of Mount Alvand, 190 km east of Kermanshah and 530 km north west of Esfahan at the elevation of 1800 meters. The city is stretched around a star-shaped square named after Imam (Ayatollah) Khomeini. Out of this square which has preserved its beautiful style of architecture, six avenues diverge from the angles of the star. Hamadan has been developed and renovated to a great extent in recent years and gradually this has changed the city’s old fabric. There are still old neighbourhoods with nostalgic names in Hamadan besides its large modern streets and beautiful parks.

Hamadan is one of the oldest cities of not only Iran but of the world. Its historical origins date back to several centuries before Christ. Hamadan was the Median Empire‘s capital before they formed a union with the Persians and also served as the summer capital of the Achaemenid Empire was then called Ecbatana or Hâgmatâna; meaning a place of assembly. The poet Ferdowsi says that Ecbatana was build by King Jamshid.

Hamadan is one of the cradles of Oriental civilization with legendary background. According to historical records, there was once a castle in this city by the name of Haft Hessar (Seven Walls) which had a thousand rooms and its grandeur equalled that of the Babylon Tower.

Alavian Mosque, 11th century CE

All the nations living around Iran coveted the prominent natural position of Hamadan from the times immemorial until recent centuries; and have invaded the city several times. First, the Assyrians destroyed Hamadan. It was ruined again and again during the invasion of Mongols and Tamerlane. Finally, in the recent centuries the Ottomans attacked the city several times; but Hamadan heroically stood against the enemies and courageously withstood all the losses it had sustained.

Hamadan is the homeland of great scholars and men ot letters like Elnaighozat, Khajeh Rashidoddin Fazlollah, Adham Hamadani, Baba Taher Orian and Mirzadeh Eshghi; and the tombs of Avicenna and Baba Taher are located in this city. Hamadan has preserved its importance in the post-Islamic period.

Hamadan is a city of mild climate summer. Its natural beauty including Mount Alvand and its beautiful peak as well as the scenery of Morad Baig and Abbasabad Valleys will always be remembered by visitors. In this ancient city remains have been unearthed in archaeological excavations of Median and Achaemenid castles, forts and cities on the hills of Hegmataneh and Mossalla. The objects unearthed in those sites, like tablets, gold and silver plates, and tools are now is great museums. Yet, there are plenty of other historical monuments and places to be visited by everybody. These include:

The Stone Lion:
The Stony Lion or the stone lion is a big Parthian monument that was originally made like a lion. It is believed that once there was a counterpart for this monument.

Avicenna Memorial Tomb:

Avicenna’s (Bu Ali Sina) tomb

The tomb of the great Iranian scientist, Avicenna, is in Hamadan with a building and a dome built in 1954. The design of the dome is inspired by the shape of Qabous Voshmgir Tower. There is a library with a number of manuscripts in this building. In the courtyard of the building, there is a tomb belonging to the late Qajar period poet and song writer Abolqassem Aref.

Baba Taher Memorial Tomb:
The tomb of the writer of many romantic couplets, Baba Taher, is in Hamadan. The building of the great mystic’s tomb has been built in a beautiful park northwest of Hamadan in recent years.

The Holy Shrines:
The devotedly faithful people of Hamadan have always paid respectful attention to holy shrines. There are several mosques; mausoleums and shrines in Hamadan including Imamzadeh Esmaeil, Imamzadeh Abdullah, the Jami’ Mosque and Khaneqah.

The Ganjnameh Epigraphes:
Most tourists express their interests usually to see the Ganjnameh Epigraphs while visiting Hamadan . These are two inscriptions which were written on a rocky wall on Alvand Mountain by kind Darius’s command during the Achaemenian period. They are located in a beautiful valley which is called Abbasabad.

The Alavid Dome:
This is the most important Islamic monument in Hamadan. It is a square building of late Saljuk period with a masterly stucco interior. This building has a crypt containing the tombs members of the Alavid family.

The Qorban Tower:
It is a 12 sided plain brick building with a pyramid shaped dome. It is located in the eastern part of the city; and there is a tomb in its crypt.

The Tomb of Esther and Mordecai:
These are the tombs of two Jewish people whose names appear in the Old Testament. The building is made with bricks and stone on the graveyard of Khashayarshah’s wife (Esther) and her uncle (Mordecai). There are antique wooden boxes and manuscripts of the Old Testament inside the building.

Ali-Sadr Cave:

Ali-Sadr Cave

The mountainous position of Hamadan has led to the formation of many wonderful and beautiful caves of which according to specialists the Alisadr is one of the most astonishing. There are few caves like this any where else across the world. Local people sometimes call it Alisadr or Alisad. Located 60 kilometers north of Hamadan, Alisadr is a vast cave that contains a lake and a labyrinth of chambers along which one can sail for tens of kilometres. The clear water of the lake is several meters deep and the cave’s walls, floor and ceiling are covered with an abundance of marvellous stalactites and stalagmites and various natural stones that have taken the shape of various animals, objects and islands. No living creature lives in this cave and in its water because there is no natural light.

However, there is power supply in the cave for lighting. In some of the chambers the distance between the floor and ceiling of the cave reaches 40 meters, but the average height of the cave is about 8 meters. There are boating services with guides and catering facilities for those who wish to visit the cave.

Knowledge About Oriental Rugs


About Oriental Rugs

By the strictest definition, Oriental rugs are carpets hand knotted only in Asia. Iran, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Tibet and Nepal are some of the biggest rug exporters. Persian rugs also are Oriental rugs but they are made only in Iran (formerly known as Persia). Characteristics of a Persian rug include an unusually thick pile (up to 160 knots per square inch), extremely rich color combinations and unique designs, and a very distinct knot. Persian carpets are traditionally known for their tremendous variety in design, color, size, and weave. Moreover, they are known for the uniqueness of each and every rug produced. Rugs are generally named after the village, town or district where they are woven or collected, or by the weaving tribe in the case of nomadic pieces.

Tibetan Knot
Tibetan Knot
Persian Knot
Persian Knot

The History of the Oriental Rug

The art of carpet weaving existed in Iran in ancient times, according to evidences and in the opinion of scientists, the 500 B.C. Pazyric carpet dating back to the Achaemenid period. The first documented evidence on the existence of Persian carpets came from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid period (224 – 641 CE).

Historical records show that the Achaemenian court of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade was decked with magnificent carpets. This was over 2500 years ago. Alexander II of Macedonia was said to have been dazzled by the carpets in the tomb area of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade.

Antique Persian Rug Example

The advanced weaving technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in this art. Pazyryk carpet is considered as the oldest carpet in the world. Its central field is a deep red color and it has two wide borders, one depicting deer and the other Persian horseman. However, it believed that the carpet from Pazyryk is not likely a nomadic product, but a product of an Achaemenid carpet production centre. By the sixth century, Persian carpets of wool or silk were renowned in court circles throughout the Middle East.

The Meaning Behind the Patterns and Colors of Oriental Rugs

Each rug’s particular pattern, palette, and weave are uniquely linked with the indigenous culture, and weaving techniques are specific to an identifiable geographic area or nomadic tribe. Typically, the more floral or formal the pattern, the more urban the area in which it was made, where as a more geometric pattern would be more likely to be from a tribe. Patterns that distinctly flow in a single direction were designed as “Prayer” rugs.

Each family of weavers would place elements in the rugs design to record their history. The use of color also added to the record. White for wedding, whether it be to signify a death, a hunt, or a famine, it is these elements that make each Oriental rug unique.

Some of the common symbols and colors and the meanings behind them:


Ram Horns – male fertility
Deer – well being
Bats – happiness
Dogs protector of noble places
Stag – long life
Duck – faithful marriage
Camel – wealth
Crab – invincible knowledge
Elephant – power
Butterfly – happiness
Lion – victory
Crane – longevity
Fish – abundance & prosperity
Phoenix – Empress
Dragon – Emperor
Dove – peace
Tarantula – prevents bad luck
Horse – speed
Peacock – divine protection


Bamboo – wealth & honor
Chrysanthemum – long life
Pomegranate – fertility
Iris – liberty
Cyprus Tree – immortality
Lily – purity
Weeping Willow – meditation
Carnation – wisdom
Tree of Life – heaven or eternal paradise
Lotus – purity
Peony – rank & wealth


Red – happiness, joy
Orange – devotion, piety
Yellow – power, glory
Green – paradise, sacred, “Prophet’s color”
Blue – solitude, truth
Black – destruction
Brown – fertility
White – purity, peace, grief

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The Making of an Oriental Rug


The natural dyes in an Oriental rug are derived from plant materials and insects such as indigo, madder, oak, sumac, pomegranate, cochineal and larkspur. Before the 1870s, they were the only source used to dye wool. Since the invention of synthetic dyes, there has been much debate about which type of dye produces a more beautiful and investment-worthy rug. Natural dyes tend to gently fade with time and therefore produce a much sought after patina.

Weaves and knots:

Most consumers know about “counting knots” to judge if the rug they are considering is of a high quality. Below you will find procedures to counting knots, but please be advised…The simple counting of knots is not a true test, but a guideline. The actual knot count needs to take into consideration the material used in the individual rug. Example: It is much more likely to accumulate an extreme knot count when the material used is silk, where as if you were to come across a rug woven from a thick wool, such as an antique Heriz, your count will be much lower than the silk, but the value of the carpet could run near $35 – $75,000.00.

A consumer needs to take into count the entire carpet, the design, the dyes, the material used, as well as the emotional value they receive from a rug. If you purchase your carpet from a reputable dealer, then the only thing the average consumer need to know is if they appreciate the appearance of the carpet and if the carpet fits into their budget.

Knot density (knots per square inch) is an important indicator of rug quality. Most weaves are measured simply by counting the number of knots per linear inch along the warp (i.e., along the length of the rug) and the number of knots per linear inch along the weft (across the width of the rug) and multiplying to get the number of knots per square inch (or per sq. cm.). Unfortunately, this simple concept can be tricky to apply in practice.

How do you know when to count one bump on the back of the rug as one knot? It’s easy… Look carefully at the individual areas of color across the width of the back of the rug. If you only see colored elements in pairs, you need to count each pair as one knot. If you see lots of single colored elements, the rug has offset warps and each element should be counted as one knot. Many country rugs from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran show both knot elements on the back of the rug, as do Bokharas from Pakistan. Most rugs from India and China have strongly offset warps, and so show only one knot element on the back of the rug.

In the Varanasi area of India, rugs are graded using two numbers, like “5/40,” “9/60,” or “12/60.” The first number represents the knots in 9/10 of an inch of the rug’s width. The second number represents the knots in 4 1/2 inches of the rug’s length. 0.9″ x 4.5″ equals 4.05″, almost four square inches, so an easy conversion is to multiply the two numbers together and divide by 4 (sq. in.) to get the approximate weave in knots per sq. in. For example, with a “9/60” quality rug, 9 X 60=540 and 540/4=135 knots per sq. in. Note that most rugs from India have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.

In Pakistan, indicated qualities like “16/16” or “16/18” for rugs in Persian design represent the number of knots per linear inch across the warp and weft counted in the normal way. For example, a “16/18” quality Kashan has 16 X 18 weave, or about 288 knots per sq. in. Note that these rugs have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.

So-called “double” Bokharas from Pakistan in qualities like “9/18,” “10/20,” “11/22,” and “12/24” are different. In this type of rug, warps lie side-by-side and are not offset, so both elements of the knot show on the back of the rug. Be sure not to double-count the weave across the width when examining a Bokhara.

China uses a completely different nomenclature, with “line counts” like “70 line,” “90 line,” or “120 line.” The line count equals the number of knots in a linear foot measured across the width of the rug. Thus a “90 line” rug has 90 knots per linear foot across its width. A “90 line” Chinese rug has about 56 knots per sq. in.; a “SINO-PERSIAN” (a Chinese rug in Persian design) in “160 line” quality has about 177 knots per sq. in.; a “240 line” rug has about 400 knots per sq. in. Chinese rugs have strongly offset warps, so you will only see one element of the knot on the back of the rug.


Ziegler and Their Carpets



Zieglers are among the most sought-after antique carpets in today’s market. Their gracious size, subtle color combinations, and uncluttered patterns make them appealingly adaptable to room settings of varied décor. These fashionable carpets were produced in Persia by the Manchester, England–based Anglo-Swiss firm of Ziegler & Company from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

Persia (now Iran) has a history of being one of the most renowned producers of Oriental carpets, long recognized for their splendor and elegance. Traditional Persian carpets, as we know them today, have been produced since at least the fifteenth century. While there is documentation that Europeans were importing Persian carpets by the sixteenth century, the trade connection was likely established at an earlier date.


With the invasion of the Afghans and the subsequent overthrow of the Safavid dynasty (1502–1722) of Persia, the country was in a state of political confusion. The court patronage, which stimulated the art of carpet making, ceased, and the great urban workshops that supplied the aristocracy of Persia and Europe were forced to close down. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the European market for Oriental carpets began to diminish as the demand for domestic weavings increased. Rather than the Eastern or Islamic taste of the Persian carpets, the English workshop of Axminster (and later Wilton and a Brussels carpeting), for example, followed the prevailing Western fashions of the time, which featured large floral and architecturally inspired motifs and designs. With the diminished market and political flux, the skilled Persian weavers were scattered, and in many ways the art was lost. Indeed, Sir John Malcolm, when writing on his travels in Persia in 1815, devoted an entire chapter of his book, The History of Persia, to its art and crafts, but made no reference to the existence of carpet making. It was not until the establishment of the Qajar dynasty (1794– 1925) that internal stability was reinstated in Persia. This, in conjunction with a renewed Western interest in Eastern carpets, brought opportunities for the revival of the Persian carpet weaving industry, which took several decades to reestablish a foothold.

With renewed interest in the exoticism of the Middle and Far East, a partial result of the Great Exhibition in London of 1862, Orientalism was introduced to a vast number of consumers. Travel literature also fueled the imaginations of people hungry to learn all they could about the mystical, far-off lands. Orientalism was back in fashion, and consumers once again sought Persian carpets.
The growing middle and upper classes in England, spawned by the riches and abundance of goods resulting from the Industrial Revolution, built grand houses to accommodate their wealthy lifestyles. When decorating these spacious homes, Victorian couples traveled to the London showrooms and bazaars. By the 1860s, department stores such as Liberty & Company offered shoppers all manner of paraphernalia, including carpets. Unfortunately, the carpets were generally either too long or too narrow for the rooms of the new English homes, because the imported carpets were designed in a traditional format to fit urban, Persian rooms. The rugs usually consisted of four pieces that included a central panel flanked by matching runners, which formed a square, and a fourth carpet laid horizontally across the top, which when placed together made a set. Exported to and sold in England, they were marketed as individual carpets, and the separate pieces were incompatible with the expansive Victorian homes. Other available carpets included tribal and village rugs. Small in size and made for humble dwellings, they were often viewed by their Western purchasers as simple floor coverings with minimal value.

Adapting to consumer demands, Persian carpet manufacturers acknowledged the changing market. Their output shifted to incorporate Western tastes, and a large percentage of the carpet production was geared to this expanding sector. Ziegler & Company also recognized the opportunity to take part in this market. Having already established business connections in Turkey and Persia through the export of printed cottons from their English-based firm, by the latter part of the nineteenth century they had established their own looms in Persia for the production of carpets, becoming the first successful European manufacturer to do so. Although other companies followed suit, Ziegler remained one of the largest non-Persian-owned producers and exporters of Oriental carpets during this time period.

Ziegler established their offices and workshops in the town of Sultanabad; their economic presence became so great that the town was known as “Fort Ziegler.” The company used ready-dyed wools, large looms to achieve the required sizes for Western homes, and perhaps most importantly, offered a regular wage to locals, thereby attracting thousands of weavers to man their looms.

Influenced by the principles of Western architectural proportion and room settings, Ziegler carpets were made to achieve a balance and symmetry in keeping with the scale of a room and its furnishings. Carpets woven in the Ziegler workshops featured central medallions or all-over pattern repeats. The latter designs integrated the classic “Shah Abbas” and “Vase” decoration of larger-than-life stylized blossoms and palmettes, suggesting a fantastic garden. Never overcrowded, these patterns give a sense of open space and elegance. This design scheme varied from the traditional Persian court carpets, which incorporated a profusion of intricate and elaborate floral patterns. The airy visual effect of Ziegler carpets resulted from the design as well as from a weave that was much coarser than that of traditional carpets. The pile was also left higher so it would be soft to the touch, creating a feeling of both visual and physical warmth. Also, fewer color combinations were used, resulting in a simpler balance and harmony; the color green was liberally incorporated, perhaps to echo the English fondness for the countryside.

Perhaps the finest single collection of Ziegler carpets to come on the market was that formed by Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, Baron Iveagh, for Elveden Hall, which he purchased in 1894. In preparation for a royal visit from the Prince of Wales, Guinness furnished the house with the latest in fashionable décor. When the contents of Elveden were offered for sale in 1984, included among the carpets were twenty-three Ziegler Sultanabads, which were mainly purchased from Liberty & Company and Harvey Nichols. All were superb examples in original condition, with the added attraction of having soft, pale colors, a desirable criterion for interior decorators. Though miscatalogued as Turkish Oushak carpets and moderately estimated between £400 and £2,000, on the day of the sale they repeatedly fetched over £35,000. All the major examples sold to the trade. Since this sale, there has been no single collection that compares in the combination of quality and quantity.

The Elveden sale offered insight into fashionable decorating schemes of the time, which included Ziegler carpets. The sale finally ended the myth that knot count should be the criterion for what makes a “fine” carpet. With newfound awareness of these carpets and the worldwide popularity of the English country house look, a greater demand has necessitated modern reproductions. All carpets from Sultanabad and its surrounding area are now indiscriminately labeled as “Ziegler.” Strangely, they have reached the exalted position of status symbols. “I want a Ziegler” is a common request, or command!



Carpet is a textile floor covering that is distinguished from the more general term “rug” by being fixed to the floor surface and extending wall to wall. The earliest peoples covered the floors of their dwellings with animal skins, grass, or, later, woven reed mats. When people learned how to spin cotton and wool, woven mats of these materials largely replaced earlier coverings. Around 3000 b.c. Egyptians sewed brightly colored pieces of woolen cloth onto linen and placed it on their floors.

The first carpets of note were woven by nomads. The thick carpets were easy to transport and were placed over the sand floor of tent dwellings. Early looms were similarly easy to transport. Two forked branches were joined by a crosspiece holding the suspended warp, and a wooden bar was used to flatten binding weft threads, while the loose warp ends formed the carpet’s pile. The Pazyryk carpet has been documented as the earliest hand loom carpet, dating back from 500 b.c. and discovered in a tomb located in the Alti Mountains in Central Asia.

From these early beginnings, carpet weaving rose to its highest art form in Turkey, Iran, India, and China. Using cotton, linen, or hemp as the foundation, and wool or silk as the luxurious pile, weavers would make a knot out of the pile thread, then form a row of knots that was tightly beaten down. The process was time-consuming: some of the finest handmade carpets have as many as 2,400 knots per square inch (372 knots per sq cm). The brilliant colors of these ancient carpets came from natural dyes such as madder, indigo, genista, woad, and ocher. Some weavers added alum to these dyes to fix the color, and a few wove gold and precious jewels into their carpets.

While Europeans for centuries eagerly received carpets ready-made from the Middle East, carpet making itself did not find a firm foothold on the continent until France imported Moorish weavers around a.d. 1300. By 1600, carpet guilds were flourishing around Aubusson and Savonnerie. England also imported Persian weavers, as well as French ones, and by 1700 both Wilton and Axminster, known for their wool, were chartered carpet-making towns. Carpet making in Europe started with the “Brussels weave” in France and Flanders. This weave is formed by putting yarn over rods to create uncut loops. Wilton carpets are cut by a blade that replaces the rod in the Brussels weave. In 1801, Joseph M. Jacquard invented a device for handlooms that used punch cards to place up to six varieties of yarn colors in textiles, thus increasing production. This technique was adopted for carpet looms in 1825.

The first carpet factory in the U.S. was built by William Sprague in Philadelphia in 1791. His looms, based on English inventions, could make 27-inch (69-cm) runners that could be sewn together to make larger carpets. By 1800, 6-8 yards (7-9 m) of carpet could be made in a day. Erastus Bigelow built a mill in 1825 in Clinton, Massachusetts, and invented the power loom in 1839, which doubled carpet production. He also invented the first broadloom in 1877. Power looms improved over the years; soon one loom could make 75 yards (82 m) of high quality carpet a day.

Carpet production changed dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century, beginning inauspiciously with a burst of tufted bedspread production in Dalton, Georgia, led by young entrepreneur Catherine Evans Whitener. Tufting is the process of punching yarn into a ground fabric to create many uncut loops at a very fast pace. Tufted bed-spread factories dominated the Dalton area by World War II, and they soon began producing tufted rugs as well. Demand for these roughly made rugs was as great as that for the bedspreads. At first using cheap, readily available cotton before switching to synthetic yarns, the number of Dalton carpet makers grew as they produced great amounts of relatively easy-to-make broadloom tufted rugs and, eventually, carpets. Carpet, once a luxury, became affordable for most Americans. Today, carpet makes up 72% of all flooring, with tufted carpet being 91.5% of production, and the city of Dalton is responsible for over 70% of the world’s production of carpet.

Raw Materials

Carpet consists of dyed pile yarns; a primary backing in which the yarns are sewn; a secondary backing that adds strength to the carpet; adhesive that binds the primary and secondary backings; and, in most cases, a cushion laid underneath the carpet to give it a softer, more luxurious feel.

Ninety-seven percent of pile yarns today are made up of synthetic polymers; the rest of the yarns are wool and comprise the more expensive, woven carpet. Synthetics are plastics such as nylon (which is in 66% of all carpet), acrylics (15%), polyester (less than 15%), and polypropylene (less than 5%). These pile yarns are dyed using a variety of organic chemical compounds, or occasionally, organometallic complexes.

Both the primary and secondary backing are largely made of woven or nonwoven polypropylene, though some secondary backing may still be made of jute, a natural fiber that, when woven, looks like burlap. The adhesive used to bind the backings together is almost universally synthetic rubber latex. The most common padding is rebond (bonded urethane), though various forms of synthetic latex, polyurethane, or vinyl might be used instead. Rebond is recycled scrap urethane that is chopped into uniformly sized pieces and pressed into layers. Although rare, some carpet cushioning is made up of horse hair or jute. A plastic top sheet is usually added to the top to insure a smooth surface against the carpet.

The Manufacturing Process

Since most carpet in the U.S. is tufted; earlier methods of weaving carpet, such as Wilton and Axminster, are ignored in the following account.

Preparing the yarn

  • 1 Synthetic yarns arrive at the carpet manufacturer either in staple fiber form or bulk continuous filament form. The staple fibers, which average 7 inches (18 cm) long, are loose, individual strands that arrive in bales. Several bales are blended together into one batch in a hopper. Then, after lubrication, they are spun into long, loose ropes called slivers by a carding machine. The slivers are then pulled, straightened, and spun into single yarn that is wound onto spools. Both the single-ply staple fibers (now spun into filament) and the bulk continuous filament must now be twisted together to form thicker twoply yarn suitable for tufting. The yarns are then steamed to bulk them, and then heated to 270-280°F (132-138°C). This heat setting causes the yarn to maintain its shape by fixing its twist. After cooling, these yarns are wound onto tubes and transported to the tufting machines.

Dyeing the yarn

  • 2 Most carpets are dyed after tufting, yet sometimes the yarns are dyed first. The methods include putting 500-1,000 pounds (227-455 kg) of fiber into pressurized vats through which treated dyes are circulated, or passing the fiber continuously through the bath, or passing skeins of yarn through the vat of dye. The yarn can also be put on forms, and the heated dyes can then be forced under pressure from inside the forms to color the yarn. Another method passes the yarn through printing rollers, while yet another involves knitting the yarn onto a form that is then printed with dyes before the yarn is unraveled. All yarn that has been dyed is then steamed, washed, and dried.

Tufting the carpet

  • 3 The yarn is put on a creel (a bar with skewers) behind the tufting machine, then fed into a nylon tube that leads to the tufting needle. The needle pierces the primary backing and pushes the yarn down into a loop. Photoelectric sensors control how deeply the needles plunge into the backing, so the height of the loops can be controlled. A looper, or flat hook, seizes and releases the loop of yarn while the needle pulls back up; the backing is shifted forward and the needle once more pierces the backing further on. To make cut pile, a looper facing the opposite direction is fitted with a knife that acts like a pair of scissors, snipping the loop. This process is carried out by several hundred needles (up to 1,200 across the 12 foot [3.7 ml width), and several hundred rows of stitches are carried out per minute. One tufting machine can thus produce several hundred square yards of carpet a day.

Dyeing the tufted carpet

  • 4 For solid color carpeting, carpet of several standard roll lengths is sewn together to make a continuous roll, which is then fed into a vat. The vat is filled with water, which is first heated before dyes and chemicals are mixed in. The mixture is then slowly brought to a boil and cooked for four hours. Another method of making solid color carpet is to sew several rows together to make one continuous roll, which is then fed under rods that bleed the color into the pile. After dyeing, the carpet is then steamed to fix the color, excess color is washed off, and the carpet is dried and put on a roll.
  • 5 To make printed carpet of various designs, white carpet passes under screens in which holes in the desired pattern have been cut. The desired color is squeegeed through the holes in the screen, and the carpet is advanced 36 inches (91 cm) to a different screen that applies a new color in a different design through the screen. Up to eight colors can be applied with this method.
  • 6 Another method of dyeing printed carpet is to pass it under embossed cylinders that have raised portions in a design, which press color into the carpet. Each cylinder provides a different design for a different color. After dyeing, the printed carpet is steamed, excess dyes are washed off, and the carpet is then dried and put onto rolls to go to the finishing department.

Finishing the carpet

  • 7 The ends of the dyed carpet are first sewn together to form a continuous belt. This belt is then rolled under a dispenser that spreads a coating of latex onto the bottom of the carpet.At the same time, a strong secondary backing is also coated with latex. Both of these are then rolled onto a marriage roller, which forms them into a sandwich and seals them together.The carpet is then placed in an oven to cure the latex.
  • 8 The completed carpet is then steamed, brushed, vacuumed, and run through a machine that clips off any tufts that rise above its uniform surface. The carpet is then rolled into 120 foot (37 m) lengths that are then packaged in strong plastic and shipped to either the carpet manufacturer’s inventory warehouse or to a retail carpet store.

Quality Control

Every piece of carpet that is tufted is inspected to see if any tufts are missing. One person with a single needle tufting gun shoots pile yarn wherever holes are found. Each piece of carpet is then inspected. The manufacturer checks that the piece is of the proper dimensions and that the tuft height is of the desired length. The static shock potential is also tested.

Most states require a flammability test. A prepared 9 × 9 inch (23 × 23 cm) specimen is placed on a steel plate that has a hole 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter in its middle. A methenamine tablet is ignited in the center. If the charred portion in seven out of eight trials does not reach to the circumference of the hole, the carpet passes. Another important test determines the carpet’s resistance to wear. A specimen of carpet is placed in a drum and beaten with a steel ball that has rubber studs on it for 20,000 to 50,000 revolutions. The carpet should look fairly new after this test. To test how the carpet’s color stands up to sunlight, a standard light source that simulates sunlight is directed at a specimen, which is then rated according to the number of units of exposure required to produce visible loss of color.

The mass per unit area of pile yarn is a significant test because pile density determines the feel of the carpet. First, the synthetic yarn is removed from the carpet, either by physical means (it is ripped off the primary backing) or chemical means (it is dissolved off). The yarn is then dissolved in a solvent, then dried in an oven to remove the solvent. The dry residue is then weighed and checked to see if the mass is as specified for that type of carpet. Each type of synthetic fiber has its own recipe. Nylon, the most commonly used synthetic yarn, is dissolved in hydrochloric acid and dried 15 minutes at 77°F (25°C).

Backing fabrics and carpet padding are tested for strength by being pulled in a vise until they break. The primary backing’s strength is checked both before and after tufting. The delamination strength of the secondary backing is also tested by determining at what force the secondary backing can be pulled away from the primary backing.

Part of the quality control process is up to the customer, who must select carpet of the proper strength and durability for the amount of traffic expected in the room, vacuum regularly, and have the carpet professionally deep cleaned at least once a year.

Where To Learn More


Deaton, Thomas M. Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry. Tapestry Press, 1993.

Ellis, Robert Y. The Complete Book of Floor Coverings. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980.

Garstein, A.S. The How- To Handbook of Carpets. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979.

Revere, Glenn. All About Carpets: A Consumer Guide. TAB Books, 1988.

Shoshkes, Lila. Contract Carpeting. Billboard, 1974.

Von Rosensteil, Helene. American Rugs & Carpets. William Morrow & Co., 1978.

History of Carpet

“The History of British Carpets” by Bertram Jacobs (1968) is the definitive volume on the subject, published by the respected trade magazine “CFR” with the encouragement of the then editor Harry Tysser. With the kind permission of Carpet Review we have incorporated information recorded by Mr Jacobs in the following summary.

“Carpets” by George Robinson, published by Textile Book Service in 1972 is also an excellent manual and has a broader scope including the mechanics of construction.

“Tufting” by Derek Ward, published by Textile Business Press (1969) is also an invaluable source, especially for the recent history of carpets.


6000 Evidence of goats and sheep being sheared for wool and hair and then spun and woven.
1480 Egyptian fresco of handloom (discovered in 1953)
464 Pazyryk rug woven, (Discovered in ice filled tomb Outer Mongolia 1960). It has all the characteristics of a modern Persian or Anatolian with a pile and Ghiordes knot.


1000 Marco Polo confirms rug making in Central Anatolia. From there the technique spread through the Caucasus, Turkomania, Persia, Meshed, Herat, Kabul, India and Kashmir. Traders took rugs to Samarkand, Bokhara, Tashkent, Sinkiang and Peking, the craft swept through Tunisia, Biskra, Bou Saada, Marakesh and Fez.
1537 Robert Rothe imports weavers from the East to make rug on his estate in Kilkenny
1540 Cardinal Wolsey imports Turkie rugs to England
1550 Carpet knotting exhibited by Richard Hickey
1570 Verulam carpet made for Elizabeth 1st
1580 Aubusson carpet centre set up in Beauvair
1586 Ardebil carpet made (now in Victoria Albert Museum, London) Made by Maksud the Keshani. (Robinson suggests 1586. Jacobs asserts 1540. One of a pair made for the Mosque of Ardebil. The other is in the Los Angeles Museum of Art)
1596 Pierre DuPont sets up weaving carpets in Palais Royal Paris (Jacobs suggests 1604) moves in 1620 to soap works “Savonerie”
1619 Inventory on Naworth Castle mentions Kidderminster Fote Cloths ) “Seven carpets of Kitterminster Stuff”).
1655 Carpet factory built at Wilton
1685 Huguenot weavers flee France some settle in England and start weaving in Wilton. Wilton carpet weavers received Royal Charter in 1699.
1720 Earl of Pembroke persuades weavers from Savonnerie factory to work in Wilton and teach locals to make Brussels carpet. (Legend has it that the Duke smuggled the weavers out of France in wine barrels). The Duffossy family still live in Dorset.
1735 Pearsall & Broome set up in Kidderminster making reversible double (Kidder) cloth. The last “Kidder” loom was dismantled in 1936. In 1745 Broome brings weavers from Tournai to Kidderminster to compete with
1749 Dufossy developed method to cut loops of Brussels weave to make a nap. This became known as Wilton carpet.
1750 Peter Parisot sets up carpet weaving in Paddington with two Savonnerie weavers, under patronage of Duke of Cumberland. He moved to larger premises near the Golden Lion Inn in Fulham. In 1755 the factory was brought by Passavant who moved plant to Exeter. (The Golden Lion still exists and when I last visited the hostelry in 1979 there were a couple of topless dancers working the bar).
1755 Moore opened in Moorfield and Whitty opened in Axminster closing in 1835 and looms moved to Wilton. Original hand knotted looms still in operation at Wilton until 1957
1756 – 1759 Royal Society of Arts presented premiums for finest carpets. Won by Whitty three times and Passavant once.
1770 – 1790 Hand made carpet making flourished and attracted designers such as the Adam Brothers and Laverton.
1770 Brintons, previously cloth makers, started making carpets. The dynasty still exists and is the largest privately owned carpet company in the UK. (1997).
1790 Whitty makes carpet for Throne Room at Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion and supplied £1000 carpet to Sultan of Turkey. Coals to Newcastle. It became the fashion to match carpets to ceilings, a trend that is still followed by today’s equivalent of Whitty’s factory, Axminster Carpets of Devon. See Axminster Contract page – Number One Nob Hill, San Francisco).
1801 Jacquard invents method of presenting different coloured yarn to weaving face. Revolutionises patterned fabric making the system still in use. (1997)
1810 Decline in fine hand made carpets due to Napoleonic War and competition from machine made. More looms introduced in Kidderminster, Yorkshire and Scotland.
1824 Three ply fabric commenced in Kilmarnock.
In America, hand knotted rugs and rag rugs made plus imports from England. In 1791 Sprague opens carpet factory in Philadelphia and 1825 mill opened in Massachusetts.
1750 – 1850 Industrial development in England. Population increase from 7 million to 18 million. End of cottage industries. Industrial revolution brought textile inventions by Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton. Cartwright and Watt’s steam engine.
1803 Crossley Carpets start in Halifax (Crossley Carpets are still made under Carpets International brand by new owners Shaw Carpets of USA. Decendents of Crossley still make carpets in Yorkshire)
1832 Whytock invents method to print yarn and then weave it into flat fabric with design incorporated. Tapestry Carpet Loom. Start of Henry Widnell Stewart Ltd in Edinburgh later bought by stoddard – who still manufacture carpet. (See stoddard carpet on British Wool pages). Whytock leases Tapestry Carpet Loom rights to Crossley.
1837 James works with Quigley to perfect the Chenille Axminster loom. Chenille expanded to meet demand for large seamless patterned carpets at an economic price. Chenille eventually succumbed in 1968. It grew to a multi-million company over 150 years and were bought by Stoddard around 1970. Quigley took his share and disappeared in America around 1850.
1839 Erasmus Bigelow in America invents power loom to make double ingrain and sold it to Scottish and English manufacturers who installed steam power. In 1951 he introduced a steam powered Brussels loom at the Great Exhibition and demonstrated it at Hoobrook in Kidderminster (Near the site of today’s Brockway Carpets, see Brockway pages), eventually Crossley purchased it.
1852 William Grosvenor built steam driven factory in Green Street, Kidderminster, where the company still occupies in a listed building.
1862 Alfred Stoddard, an American, took over the tapestry factory of Ronalds at Elderslie, near Glasgow, to make carpets. By 1867 he was selling 75% in America. Stoddard now owns and still make carpets on the original site.
1878 Spool Axminster, invented by Halcyon Skinner in America, introduced into England by Tomkinson and Adam in Kidderminster. (Both families still making carpets – 1997). Morris opened hand knotting factory Hammersmith. (Morris designs still produced on Wilton looms see Hand Made Carpets pages).
1880 William Gray of Ayr develops seamless Kidder carpets
1890 Brintons develop Gripper Axminster (also from Halcyon Skinner of Yonkers) with efficiency advantages over traditional Spool. Later the two techniques were combined in Spool-Gripper.
1896 Donegal hand made factory set up and still in operation. (1997)
1905 Brintons produce carpet from first power driven wide loom. 15 ft wide. (4.57m)
1927 David Crabtree, loom builders since 1853, start to export wide Gripper looms, three yards or three metres wide. 10 ft 6in introduced in 1932.
1930 Decline in Tapestry carpet in favour of huge increase in Gripper Axminster especially for “Seamless Squares”.
1940 – 50 Tufted carpets developed in USA from candlewick weaving techniques.
1960 Chenille Axminster disappeared under avalanche of tufted carpet.
1950 – 1970 Tufted carpet limited to plan yarn effects but gradually printing white carpet improved.
1970 – 1995 Woven Carpet production declined by 70% but tufted production increased by 300% (UK).
1995 Fully patterned tufted carpets produced in England by Ryalux Carpets. Individual coloured yarns presented to substrate effectively for the first time. Patterned tufted carpet produced to rival woven (Gripper Axminster and Figured Wilton) carpets.
2000 Carpet choice has never been so diverse. Identifying the need to move with the changing demands of the consumer, the carpet manufacturers across the world offer a huge variety of diverse carpet ranges. 1000’s of textures, colours, designs and styles leave no stone unturned.


The evolution of carpeting has been affected by social, economical and fashion pressures. Developments in man-made fibres, loom widths and machine efficiencies brought carpets within reach of the mass market. Fashions for seamless square and then seamless close-cover carpet helped introduce wider looms. Investigation into thermal and acoustical requirements led to fitted carpets in public buildings, shops and offices. Ingenious manufacturing solutions proliferated from the 1960’s. Tiles, printing, warp printing, needle punched fibres and double faced bonded carpets all increased the ability of the carpet trade to cater for specific areas, price points and the demands of fashion.

A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry

The First U.S. Carpet Industry

The first U.S. carpet industry emerged at the end of the eighteenth century. Skilled weavers produced carpets and rugs with handloom technology. In its early years, American carpet makers encountered the same problem as other textile manufacturers – imports. Congress protected the infant U.S. industry, along with textiles generally, in 1816 and raised protective tariffs in the 1820s. In an early survey of the industry conducted in 1834, Timothy Pitkin found 20 carpet mills producing about 1 million square yards. By 1850, a government survey found 116 mills producing 8 million square yards of carpets and rugs (employing more than 6,000 workers). Twenty years later, U.S. carpet mills numbered 215, wove more than 20 million square yards, and employed 12,000 persons. In the nineteenth century Americans used carpet to cover poor quality, soft wood floors. A commentator wrote in 1872 that the “general use of carpets was a necessity some few years ago, from the fact that the floors of our houses were generally built of such poor material, and in such a shiftless manner, that the floor was too unsightly to be left exposed” (Greeley, 1872). The mid-nineteenth century saw the introduction of the varnished hardwood floor. With the hardwood floor came a declining demand for wall-to-wall carpets and an increasing demand for smaller rugs to provide stylistic accents.

Employment and production figures indicate that, although there was an incremental increase in productivity, production effectively rose in concert with the number of workers. Erastus Bigelow introduced power loom technology for various types of carpeting in the early 1840s, and others quickly followed with competing designs. Though Bigelow’s idea – the use of power looms in carpet production – would eventually result in great productivity gains, Bigelow’s own looms were not the primary source of the gains, nor did those gains materialize overnight. Handloom production outweighed power loom production as late as the 1870s in the Philadelphia area. Power looms were expensive and manufacturers had great difficulty in matching the quality of goods produced with handlooms.

Boom and Bust in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

After 1870, refinements in power loom technology allowed manufacturers to produce reasonable substitutes for higher quality handloom woven goods. This resulted in a decline in the production of the cheapest carpets as consumers moved toward higher quality goods as the price of higher quality weaves declined. Large rugs became a staple in upper-middle class American homes by the early twentieth century. Sales ballooned to more than 83 million square yards by 1923. Firms such as Bigelow-Hartford produced lavish catalogs and advertised products direct to consumers in the early twentieth century, bypassing the traditional commission agents who had dominated marketing in the nineteenth century. The industry seemed, however, to have peaked in 1923. Sales fell off even before the Great Depression, and the economic disaster of the 1930s offered no respite. Firms such as Bigelow and Mohawk struggled. Industry production hovered in the 60 million square yard range throughout the 1930s. Most mills converted to war production during the Second World War, a move that helped forestall a deeper crisis. Just after World War II, the industry experienced a brief boom, with sales jumping to nearly 90 million square yards in 1948, but the boom quickly turned bust. Even the seemingly robust sales of 1948 amounted to a scant increase over the peak of a quarter century earlier. When compared with population growth, the industry’s sales had actually declined. Worse still, sales fell through the early 1950s back into the 60 million yard range.

The Second U.S. Carpet Industry

Carpet in the United States had three salient characteristics in 1950. Carpets were (1) woven on power looms out of (2) wool in (3) mills located in the northeastern United States. In just one short decade, each of those critical elements had changed dramatically. By 1960, most carpet in the United States was made on tufting machines from synthetic fibers such as nylon in factories located in the southeastern United States – and the vast majority of these new mills were located in and around the Appalachian foothills town of Dalton, Georgia.

The U.S. economy entered a prolonged boom period after World War II that many historians have labeled the “golden age.” The release of pent-up consumer demand associated with the sacrifices of World War II, Keyenesian government policies aimed at maintaining a high level of demand, and other factors helped produce a period of unparalleled economic growth. Northeastern carpet manufacturers tried a variety of approaches during the late 1940s and early 1950s to reverse their industry’s fortunes, but had little success. Annual per household carpet consumption stood at 1.97 square yards in 1950, virtually unchanged from the beginning of the twentieth century. Industry executives expressed increasing frustration throughout the early 1950s with their inability to tap the booming housing market of the postwar period. Many northern carpet mills began to open new plants in the South. Moving south allowed older firms to escape unionized work forces, take advantage of the region’s lower labor costs and, occasionally, benefit from incentives offered by state and local governments in the region (Greenville, Mississippi, built a $4 million facility to entice the Alexander Smith Company in the early 1950s, for example). Bigelow, Mohawk, and other northeastern companies built facilities in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi during the 1950s.

With few exceptions, these facilities produced carpet using weaving technology. The shining new mills in Greenville, Mississippi and Liberty, South Carolina, used the latest and most productive looms and were constructed according to the most up-to-date standards – single-floor construction and concrete floors, for example, to make the use of lift trucks possible. Yet the industry encountered one insurmountable barrier. In spite of decades of incremental progress, woven carpets were still too expensive to penetrate the working class market. The wholesale price of woven carpets rose slightly during the 1950s. The quite modest increases were interpreted within the industry as something of a success.

The woven carpet manufacturers also tried other strategies to boost sales in the 1950s. Some manufacturers experimented with selling carpet “on time” (credit) through retailers; others emphasized style and elegance. The chief impact of the advertising campaigns seems to have been to raise awareness of and desire for carpeting in general. In 1949, this would have seemed a winning strategy.

Tufted Textiles Take the Floor

During the same decade, however, a new southern industry produced a cheaper substitute for woven goods – tufted carpets and rugs, whose sales grew from near zero in the late 1940s to more than 100 million square yards by 1958. The origins of this new carpet industry in the South can be traced to a combination of purposeful action and historical accident.

The Tufted Bedspread Industry

The historical accident, as Krugman called it, was the revival of the hand tufting tradition in northwest Georgia (and elsewhere in the region) in the early twentieth century. To create a tufted bedspread, the craftsperson inserted raised tufts of yarn into a pre-woven piece of backing material (generally cotton sheeting) to form a pattern, then boiled the sheeting to shrink it and lock in the tufts of yarn. Catherine Evans, a young woman living near Dalton, Georgia, saw an old hand tufted bedspread at a friend’s house in 1895. Evans duplicated the design and made a similar spread as a wedding gift. Evans and some of her relatives began teaching other area women the art of tufting. From these beginnings, a cottage industry developed. By the 1920s, local entrepreneurs had created numerous “spread houses.” The spread houses operated a putting out system, sending “haulers” into the countryside with sheeting and yarn. The haulers returned later to pay the farm families for their hand work and pick up tufted spreads for finishing – washing and, for some, dyeing. These spreads found a ready market, not just regionally, but in the northeast as well. (Wannamaker’s department stores stocked Georgia bedspreads in the 1930s.) This cottage industry became a source of economic growth in north Georgia even during the Great Depression.

Here the residue of purposeful action intersected with Catherine Evans’ historical accident. By the 1920s, the South had become home to the lion’s share of U.S. textile production. Some of this shift southward was due to capital movement from North to South, but most of the shift could be accounted for by new southern firms – large firms such as Georgia’s West Point Manufacturing and North Carolina’s Burlington Mills and smaller firms like Dalton, Georgia’s Crown Cotton Mill and American Hosiery Mill. After the Civil War, and especially after 1880, southern firms had borrowed northern technology, begun at the bottom of the quality chain with the coarsest fabrics, and initiated what might be called a process of regional learning. Much of this development was the result of a purposeful effort to industrialize the region. By the early twentieth century, the South still had not developed a regional textile machine-making industry, but the cotton mills, hosiery mills, and other textile firms had recruited and trained a large number of mechanics to maintain machinery purchased in the northeast. Mechanics from the Dalton area and nearby Chattanooga began adapting sewing machines for the purpose of inserting raised yarn tufts, and in the early 1930s many of the spread houses moved toward becoming spread mills, or factories. Spread mill owners employed a largely female work force to operate the sewing machines that now created the raised patterns.

From Spread Mills to Carpet Mills

By the end of the 1930s, a number of these firms had begun to experiment with multi-needle machines that could tuft wider swaths of backing material more quickly. Some firms, such as the cleverly named Cabin Crafts (to conjure the image of a cottage industry that already had ceased to exist) had begun making small rugs by covering the entire surface of a piece of backing material with tufts. Hosiery mill mechanics like Albert and Joe Cobble founded firms in the southern industrial dynamo of Chattanooga, Tennessee (less than 30 miles from Dalton) to build special machines for the tufted bedspread and small rug industry. From these technological roots, area entrepreneurs began experimenting with making large rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting with this tufting process. About 1949, the Cobble Brothers firm and an innovative Dalton spread making company, Cabin Crafts, introduced tufting machinery wide enough to produce carpeting in a single pass. Carpet makers could buy cheap pre-woven backing materials. Manufacturers tried cotton with mostly poor results. Eventually Indian jute became the primary backing material for tufted carpets through the 1960s. In the 1970s, manufacturers developed suitable synthetic substitutes for jute.

The traditional woven carpet industry primarily used wool. (One manufacturer lamented in 1950 that it was “unfortunate that the carpet industry was tied to the back of a sheep.”) Wool made an excellent material for floor coverings – it was durable and resilient. The new southern tufting mills used cotton yarn at first. Cotton did not compare with wool as a floor covering material – it crushed easily and wore more quickly. Yet already by 1955, southern carpet mills were selling more carpets than northern mills, in spite of the clearly inferior nature of the product. The key was price: the wholesale price of tufted carpet was about half that of woven products. Consumer surveys in the 1950s demonstrated that few carpet buyers could name the manufacturer of the carpets they had purchased. The same consumers were almost without exception unable to distinguish between a tufted and a woven construction with a visual inspection. The old woven firms’ ad campaigns of the 1950s probably helped move more tufted carpet than woven.

Synthetic Fibers

The tufted carpet industry experienced a meteoric rise in the 1950s, but many skeptics saw it as a fad that would fade. One machinery executive quipped that “every year was the last big year for tufting” in the 1950s, according to industry observers. The obvious inferiority of cotton made the argument plausible. Surely consumers, many in the old woven industry argued, would eventually tire of placing glorified bedspreads on their floors. Tufted manufacturers experimented with rayon (disastrously) and staple (chopped, spun) nylon (with some success) in the 1950s. The most significant breakthrough in terms of raw materials came in the mid-1950s from the DuPont Corporation. Woven manufacturers and others had experimented with DuPont’s nylon as a carpet fiber, but nylon lacked the bulk needed in floor coverings. DuPont helped insure that the bust never came by developing bulked continuous filament (BCF) nylon in the mid-1950s. DuPont’s initiative was clearly stimulated by the growth of carpet sales. In essence, tufted manufacturers created a market large enough to justify DuPont’s research and development costs. DuPont even helped the new industry along by launching its own ad campaign for carpets made with its trademark 501 nylon in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

BCF nylon helped insure the long-term future of the tufted carpet industry. Tufted carpets used, and still use, a variety of fibers. Staple nylon could be used in constructions and styles that were not possible with a continuous filament yarn – plush, lustrous constructions. And in recent years, the industry has made increasing use polypropylene and other continuous filament yarns. DuPont’s BCF nylon (and similar products introduced by Monsanto a bit later), however, fit perfectly with the least expensive, low pile height, loop constructions that sold best in the emerging modest income market.

By the end of the 1950s, the new tufted carpet industry had raced past the old woven industry. While the total volume of carpet sales skyrocketed, woven sales actually fell. Tufted products accounted for all the growth in the industry through the 1970s. Tufted carpet sales increased from about 6 million square yards in 1951 to nearly 400 million yards in 1968. Carpet finally became a staple of middle and working class home furnishings – indeed, it became the default floor covering over much of the nation for decades. The logjam had been broken by product substitution. Per household sales increased for the first time since the turn of the century. By 1990, Americans consumed over 12 square yards of carpet per family per year, up from 1.97 in the early 1950s. Woven sales drifted downward in the same period from 67 million yards to just over 40 million. Woven products did not disappear. High-end consumers still sought the assumed quality of woven goods, and woven products continued to dominate specialty commercial markets – hotel lobbies, casinos, etc. But tufted carpet achieved total dominance of not just the residential carpet market, but the residential flooring market in general.

Table 1

Average Mill Value of Carpet Shipments, 1950-1965 (price per square yard)

All Broadloom Carpet and Rugs Woven Tufted
1950 $6.26 $6.26 n.a.
1955 5.30 6.19 3.36
1960 4.50 6.56 3.49
1965 3.76 6.09 3.40

Table 2

Carpet Industry Output, 1951-1968 (square yards)

Tufted Carpet Shipments(square yards) Woven Carpet Shipments(square yards) Total IndustryShipments(square yards)
1951 6,076,000 66,924,000 73,000,000
1960 113,764,000 52,044,000 165,808,000
1963 250,000,000 41,000,000 291,000,000
1968 395,000,000 40,000,000 435,000,000

The tufted carpet industry was the nation’s fourth fastest growing industry in the 1960s, trailing only aircraft, television picture tubes, and computers. Robert Shaw, CEO of Shaw Industries, for two decades the nation’s leading manufacturer of carpet, recalled the late 1950s and 1960s as the era of the “gold coast” in the Dalton area, an era in which demand constantly outstripped supply and small manufacturers and large could succeed with few controls and a “seat-of-the-pants” management style.

Carpet Capital: An Industrial District

The brief narrative sketched above outlines the emergence of an industrial district. By the 1960s, the district had developed several distinct features. The carpet complex was characterized by the rapid emergence of new firms. No single firm accounted for as much ten percent of the industry’s output. The industry had developed from the deep roots of textile manufacture and, specifically, bedspread making. Carpet making emerged out of a process of regional learning (albeit a small region, similar to Jane Jacobs’ “city regions”). Carpet manufacture was also a decentralized affair. A few large firms, such as Cabin Crafts and E.T. Barwick Mills, spun some of their own yarn and finished some of their own carpets in-house by the 1960s, but most of the hundreds of small firms relied on independent yarn spinning or production mills and independent commission finishing firms. Carpet finishing provided the industry with significant flexibility. Mills produced some carpets with pre-dyed yarns, but tufted significant yardage with undyed yarn. This allowed manufacturers to delay the critical decision on color until later, increasing the company’s flexibility. Commission finishing companies provided these services. Initially post-production dyeing was handled in dye becks, or large drums. That is, finishers dyed carpets by the piece (albeit large pieces, 900 feet or more in length). Dye becks were produced locally and regionally.

The Dalton district offered a classic example of the great Victorian economist Alfred Marshall’s industrial district based on external economies. Clearly this industry originated in northwest Georgia because of the peculiar skill set developed among managers, mechanics, and workers. The finishing companies and other suppliers clearly filled the role of Marshall’s “subsidiary trades” devoted “to one small branch of the process of production.” Innovation and ideas were “in the air,” as Marshall put it. With so many firms and workers in close proximity, improvements in technology, management practices, marketing, and other arenas were rapidly transmitted throughout the industry. Though different in many ways, Paul Krugman has observed, the relatively low-tech carpet industry of the Appalachian foothills was quite similar to the high-tech Silicon Valley in these respects.

In the 1960s, European firms introduced continuous dyeing equipment to the U.S. carpet market. Continuous dyeing equipment held out the potential for more effective use of mass production techniques – an endless stream of white carpet moving through a dye range capable of rapidly shifting colors. The continuous ranges were, however, frightfully expensive compared to dye becks. The relative expense of the equipment in this evolving industry offers a window into the strategic options available to management. A tufting machine might have sold for $10,000 in the late 1950s, with Cobble Brothers or some other firm offering in-house financing. Through the 1960s, the well-nigh indestructible tufting machines were available second-hand – a bit slower than brand new models installed by larger mills, but still effective for smaller product runs. That particular barrier to entry into this new industry was quite low. To establish a beck dyeing operation, the equipment alone would have cost more than $700,000 by the end of the 1960s. The stakes in finishing were much higher, but the risks were shared among the finisher and his many customers. Just one of the new continuous dye ranges in the early 1970s cost more than $800,000. The capital stakes rose for finishers.

The Maturing of the Industry

The carpet boom slowed in the 1970s as did the rest of the US economy. The recessions of the mid-1970s brought an end to the double-digit annual growth rates of the earlier period. In a slower growth environment, attention to cost became critical. Some firms adapted to the changing environment, but many did not. Adaptation generally involved vertical integration. Particularly during the 1980s, a few firms took the lead in bringing yarn spinning (and eventually production of extruded, continuous filament yarn) in-house, integrating backward toward raw materials. The most successful large manufacturers also integrated forward through finishing, investing in their own dyeing facilities. The recession of 1981-82 proved a pivotal moment – many smaller and mid-sized firms had continued to struggle along and occasionally prosper during the inflationary 1970s. The recession of the early 1980s claimed nearly half of the 285 mills that had been in operation in 1980; by 1992 the industry counted only about 100 mills, down dramatically from its early 1970s peak of more than 400. Shaw Industries, a revamped Mohawk Industries, and a few others bought competitors and moved the industry towards greater consolidation. Moreover, the top four firms, led by Shaw Industries, accounted for more than 80% of total production by the early 1990s.

The Industry Today

The carpet industry today is essentially the domain of a few large firms, led by Shaw Industries and Mohawk. The nation’s largest carpet making firms are headquartered in northwest Georgia. Shaw and other carpet firms have moved into the production and distribution of other flooring surfaces – tile, wood, vinyl, etc. – as carpet has slipped in market share. No longer the unchallenged leader in covering America’s floors, carpet is still the single most popular choice. Perhaps the most notable change associated with the industry today is its increasing use of workers of Hispanic descent. Since the late 1980s, Hispanic immigrants have moved in large numbers to Dalton, as they have to many new destinations throughout the nation. The region’s employers laud the immigrant workers as the saviors of the industry, a solution to the region’s recurrent labor shortages. Some community leaders and longtime residents express anxiety about the pace of cultural change in the small communities that still serve as hosts to the industry.


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Citation: Patton, Randall. “A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. September 22, 2006. URL