The Brief History of Hardwood Floors in America

Oriental rugs and polished wooden floors are what comes to our mind when we try to envision the historic interiors. However, this picture is not entirely accurate because until the late 19thcentury finish hardwood floors or oriental rugs were not that common. Wood has been used for flooring for quite a long time but in a much simpler form than we might imagine.


The wood in olden times used to come from the continent’s forests. The trees used to be gigantic and had enormous diameters. The most desirable heartwood used to be tightly grained, which made the wood more durable and harder as compared to the wood that is used today.
In the late 19thcentury converting raw wood into functional lumber was a very hard process. There were no circular saws at the time and it took two men to pit-saw the wooden logs into planks. Due to the efforts required to finish the wood it was often laid bare because it would automatically glisten with extended years of use.
Due to the fluctuation in temperature and humidity gaps would often appear between the wooden planks allowing things to fall between the gaps and the air to pass from the basement to the living room. This problem was later corrected by making use of a simple technique where the long side of the plank was polished with an “L” profile which would eventually interlock with the wooden plank placed right next to it.

Decorative Embellishments

Painted interiors were in trend in the late 18thcentury, and the method was also applied to the wooden floors. The color could be anything ranging from chess patterns to monochromatic hues. However, the use of varnish and stain was not as common as it is in today’s time.
The trend changed in the first half of the 19thcentury and wooden floors were covered with carpets rather than paint. Power loom was recently invented during that time and therefore carpets were becoming more affordable for the emerging middle class.
In the mid 19th century the wealthiest people would sport parquet in certain areas of the house. Parquet was a technique of arranging different sections of wood in geometric patterns and fixing the pieces on the floor with the help of tiny nails. This took a lot of manpower as each piece of wood had to be cut and fixed by hand.
With the advent of industrial revolution, steam-driven machinery was invented which allowed production of finished wooden boards in large quantities. This allowed lumber to be milled in fixed widths and lengths which accelerated the process of installation of wooden floors giving them a more finished look.


Glossy and Fresh

It was in the late 19th century when people started installing polished and finished hardwood floors in the house. This trend started from public rooms and then as it became more affordable it started spreading to bedrooms and kitchens.
The commonly used hardwoods floors in this era were black walnut, maple, chestnut, and white oak.
These wood species were popular as they were the most durable and resilient. At the turn of the century, fir became the new choice and was used in kitchens as well as other parts of the house.
Hardwood did not lose its fame even in the 20thcentury and has always particularly held interest for those who live in vintage upscale homes.