Cork throughout History

The history of cork use dates back thousands of years. Evidence has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and across the mediterranean in Rome and Persia. Cork was used in everyday items like fishing nets and sandals. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus referred to the cork tree and wrote about it’s benefits in his botanical treatises. It’s thermal insulating properties were even recognized in the second century BC by, the Roman, Varro by which he used cork in his bee-keeping practices.

Cork is native to the mediterranean region and the majority of cork trees today grow in Portugal. People began to protect cork forests as early as the 13 century, and in 1292, Dinis, the king of Portugal, banned the cutting of trees in Alcáçovas. This started to give way to more use and eventual commercialization of cork as a renewable material product in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The French Benedictine monk Dom Pierrer Pérignon, maker of the famous champagne Dom Pérignon, used cork stoppers for his bottles starting back in the 1680s. When Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in 1952, recovered 7000 amphora (ancient jars) that were around 2,200 years old, it was discovered that some still held wine by being sealed with cork stoppers. As bottling technology progressed with the development of the bottle cap in 1890s, agglomerated cork processes rapidly developed as well. In 1891, John Smith created a technique which only used cork, heat, and pressure, no binding material. Soon after, Charles McManus invented a type of agglomerated cork to be used to line bottle caps for a better seal. All of these developments opened up more possibilities and helped create the current cork industry.

In 1956, what is now the Portuguese Cork Association was established as Grémio Regional dos Industriais de Cortiça do Norte (Northern Portugal Regional Group of Cork Industries). Then in 1987 the European Cork Federation (C.E. Liège) was founded, formed by six member nations; France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The C.E. Liège soon created the 1996 International Code of Cork Stopper Manufacturing Practice, a key document for quality control in the production of cork stoppers.

Cork has come a long way since being used for fishing nets in ancient times. It has become a widely used material in many industries. The continuing use of cork supports local economies while serving a global market, as well as protecting areas from environmental degradation.

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"A Brief Timeline: Cork In History"