Paper has a multitude of uses – from the teabag that infuses our morning cuppa to the newspaper we read which we sip it.  But this is just small fry to the weird and wonderful uses uncovered in a book by Nicholas A. Basbanes.

Journalist Nicholas A. Basbanes published his history of paper “On Paper: The EVERYTHING of its Two Thousand Year History” in 2013.  The book charts a history of the material from its very early innovation to the innovations it inspires today.  Here’s five of the most bizarre uses paper has been put to!




#1. The origin of flight

In the 1780s, the Montgolfier brothers used several layers of paper made in their family papermill in France to line the inner skin of the world’s first hot air balloon.




Takuo Toda, head of Japan Origami Airplane Association, folds a space shuttle-shaped paper plane at the Japan Airlines' facilities in Tokyo, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008. Toda had nursed the idea of flying a shuttle-shaped paper plane since NASA launched its first spacecraft Enterprise in 1977. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

 #2. Space flight

Some 225 years later, a team of Japanese scientists tested a paper plane made from paper treated with silicon in a hypersonic wind tunnel to demonstrate the feasibility of a slow-speed, low-friction re-entry from space.  They planned to launch the paper planes from the International Space Station, but sadly the space launch still hasn’t happened.


#3. Balloon bombs

Sadly, one more successful use of paper flying machines was also a Japanese invention: in World War II the Japanese army constructed 10,000 balloon bombs from squares of hand-made paper.  A plaque on a hillside in Klamath Falls, Oregon, commemorates these paper balloons’ destructive results: a woman and five children were killed by one of the few devices that wasn’t shot down as it approached the Pacific Coast – it is the only place on the American continent where death resulted from enemy action in World War II.


#4. Holy munitions

Sadly, that isn’t the only way paper has been used in war.  Basbanes tells the tale of the “Gun Wad Bible” – an early edition of the Holy Scriptures printed in German by Pennsylvania printer Christopher Sauer.  The pages from unbound copies of this print run were used extensively by both sides in the American revolution in which to wrap gunpowder and so create paper cartridges for their firearm.




#5. Creating an American home

A more pleasant – but still more surprising – use for papepaper_houser was found by Maine resident Elis F. Stenman.  In the 1920s, he built a summer cottage in the Pigeon Cove area of downtown Rockport made entirely from newspapers.  The mechanical engineer and inventor used more than 100,000 of them – from all corners of the USA – to create his “Paper House”.

Compressed into compact layers and then laminated with glue, his paper creation has stood the test of time and is today operated as a museum by Stenman’s grand-niece.

Need more bizarre paper insights?  Basbanes’s book tells many more tall tales of the weird and wonderful ways paper has shaped our lives and history.