Having a hardwood floor means different things to different people. Most of us would think that a hardwood floor is very classy and expensive. Many home buyers today prefer hardwood floors. But there was a time when flooring in a home was simply cut boards or planks. It was not particularly considered special, even though they used solid wood. (For the sake of brevity, this very short hardwood floor history will only cover hardwood flooring in America since the late 1800’s.)
Technological advancement, the economy, and war all played a role in the development of the modern hardwood floor industry.
Hardwood Floor History: Technology’s Effect
Prior to the 20th century, the labor demands were extreme to create a hardwood floor.
The first wooden floors in colonial America were wide, thick planks cut from the continent’s abundant old-growth forests. Old House Online
In 1885 they developed tools to make tongue and groove flooring. This greatly reduced the labor requirements of installing hardwood flooring. Of course, everything changed drastically after power tools were invented, especially circular saws.
Hardwood Floor History: Economic Effect
In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, wood to be used for flooring was all hand-cut. The time required for laborers to install hardwood floors meant that most people could not afford it.
For centuries, wood floors were the domain of only the wealthiest people in the world. Expert craftsmen labored for years on the same floor, meticulously cutting each intricate inlay or pattern by hand. The only other wood floors in existence were the rough, hand-hewn planks that formed the surface of some commoners’ residences. Either way, each wood floor was the result of a painstaking hand-cutting process. – Hardwood Floors / nwfa
Hardwood Floor History: The Effect of War
In the 1920’s many people had an abundance of money. The flooring industry was growing and advancing. But everything stopped when America entered World War II. All efforts were directed at winning the war. It was a matter of necessity and survival. If we had lost the war, today we would likely be speaking German and using German technology. Woodworkers were assigned to provide wood flooring for barracks and vast factories to help the war effort. Fortunately, the result of the war allowed our free enterprise to grow.
Today there are more options than ever to install beautiful hardwood flooring. Modern technology and tools make it more affordable for most Americans. The labor is still intensive but what used to take months or years to install, can now be done in days.