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The Fascinating History Of Engineered Wood And Decorative Laminate

Engineered wood and plastic laminate are versatile and useful in a variety of locations and industries. Durable and beautiful, these products continue to show up in homes, offices, furniture, recreational vehicles, and more. Engineered wood and plastic laminate have been popular for decades, and both have a long and interesting history.

Engineered Wood

Engineered wood, generally speaking, is a product comprised of wood or wood pieces, compressed with an adhesive, and covered with a veneer or laminate. There are many types of engineered wood, but it all started with plywood. And there is a great story behind the development of plywood.

According to the APA, the nonprofit trade association for the engineered wood industry, archaeologists have found traces of laminated wood as far back as the Ancient Egyptian era. Not until 1865 was the first patent issued for manufactured wood, but no one truly capitalized on it until 1905. That year, the World’s Fair in Portland, Oregon, was commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expeditions, and one product they chose to showcase was Portland Manufacturing’s 3-ply veneer work. Their exhibit was a hit, catching the attention of cabinet makers and door manufacturers alike. Soon after, it became known as plywood.

Then in 1934, a technological breakthrough in the form of waterproof adhesives made it possible for these wood products to be used outdoors. In World War II, these materials were considered essential in the war efforts. The booming post-war economy of the mid-40s through the 50s saw a dramatic rise in the need for plywood, and by 1954, the industry was producing nearly 40 billion square feet per year. By 1975, the United States alone was manufacturing in excess of 16 billion square feet, twice what the industry leaders and researchers has predicted.

Technology, as its nature requires, continued to advance. In the 1970s and early 80s, for example, plywood principles were utilized to create many of the products we know and love today: OSB, glued laminated timber, laminated veneer lumber, and others. Engineered wood can even outperform solid wood in some important ways. For one, it’s man-made, so it can be more easily customized. Two, glulam is actually stronger and stiffer than comparable lumber, and pound-for-pound is stronger than steel. Three, engineered wood stands up better to the elements while still maintaining the look of real wood. And four, these products are green—manufactured wood makes more efficient use of timber than does solid wood.

Decorative Plastic Laminate

Plastic laminate is a durable but flexible product composed of layered strips of paper in varying thicknesses and design that have been saturated with resin and then heated. It is used for both practical and decorative purposes. It was created in the early 1900s by two engineers, Herbert A. Faber and Daniel J. O’Conor, almost by accident. There was a need for a rigid material for electronics insulation. By soaking some paper in resin and heating it, laminate was born.

Part of a dream-team of scientists, Faber and O’Conor struck out on their own in 1934 to form their own company. According to, the initial discovery of laminate was made possible by the development of Phenolic laminate resins, which were highly resistant to heat, water, chemicals, and electric current. Commonly used as insulation in shipping and Naval vessels, its utility and strength had a perfect showcase for its debut.

Then, in 1927 Faber and O’Conor discovered that they could add decorative paper to the laminate sheets, and its market quickly expanded. They also began to use wood grains and marble patterns to simulate the well-appreciated building materials of the time. In the 1940s, the industry progressed and developed a laminate that stood up to abuse as harsh as cigarette burns, and with a vast variety of patterns and ever-increasing durability, laminate became a common material in home design, specifically in kitchens and bathrooms.

Today’s laminate is even more versatile than the original. The bottom layer of laminate is composed of kraft paper, the same brown paper in which kids take their lunches to school. The number of layers of kraft paper determine the thickness, strength, and malleability of the final product, making it customizable to any situation. Used in cabinets, countertop surfaces, and even countertop edge molding, decorative plastic laminate, discovered accidentally, is one of the most useful materials in the building industry today.

At Genesis Products, we offer complete supply chain management including materials sourcing, warehousing, production and distribution. For over ten years we have been building relationships with the leading producers of adhesives, surfaces, and substrates to ensure our products contain the best materials so that we can offer them at the most competitive pricing.

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