Historical Background

The following historical highlights help show how vinyl became popular for use in flooring.

The first rubber floor tiles debuted sometime in the 12th to 13th centuries, but declined in popularity toward the end of the 17th century. The use of plain, square, undecorated red clay tiles became common throughout Europe during the 18th century.

Linoleum was invented and patented in 1845. It was first manufactured in Scotland in the 1860s, and the first U.S. plant was built in 1872. Linoleum remained popular until after World War II, when easy-to-maintain and durable vinyl flooring was introduced.

In 1894, Philadelphia architect Frank Furness patented a system for rubber floor tiles. Colors were limited, but the tiles could be laid in geometric patterns to produce an eye-catching design. By the end of the century, recessed tabs allowed rubber tiles to be nailed to the subfloor, and soon the tabs were eliminated altogether. These tiles were durable, sound-deadening, easy to clean and easy to install. However, they also stained easily and deteriorated over time from exposure to oxygen, ozone and solvents, and were not suitable for use in basements where alkaline moisture was present.

The first cork tile floor was introduced in 1904, and became the most popular type of resilient flooring in the 1920s. It was available in a limited range of colors and designs, but was expensive and porous.

Asphalt tile arrived on the scene in the 1920s and, by the 1950s, was the most widely used floor tile on the market, fueled by low initial cost and easy installation. These tiles were tough, durable, highly resistant to abrasion and moisture, and fire resistant, but the styles and patterns were limited.

Then, in 1933, vinyl made its big splash when a vinyl composition tile was displayed at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Because of the scarcity of vinyl during the war years, vinyl flooring was not widely marketed until the late 1940s, but then quickly challenged its competitors. Originally used only in high traffic areas, vinyl flooring eventually became the most popular choice for flooring in just about any hard-surface application. Today, vinyl flooring is second only to carpet in floor covering sales in the United States, according to Floor Covering Weekly.