A Brief History of Wool

Thanks to the development of synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon, demand for wool has declined since the mid 1940s. Frankly, when we think of wool, the first thing that comes to mind is the word “itchy”. But wool is a vital piece of mankind’s history. And even though its popularity has declined, wool is still (after thousands and thousands of years) the most excellent textile fiber and the best suited to provide warmth in all climates: warm, dry, wet, and cold.

Take a few minutes to read through this brief history of wool. Of course the true history of wool would take much longer to expound (including wool and sheep related lore and idiomatic expressions such as “spinster” and “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but that is for another day), so for now, please enjoy a brief history of wool:

We found these awesome facts about the history of wool at sheepusa.org and thought they were too good NOT to share:

  • Sheep provided the solution for man’s three most basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. The warmth of wool clothing and the mobility of sheep allowed mankind to spread beyond the warm climate of Mesopotamia.
  • Men and women eventually figured out how to spin and weave, which led to more refined garments and cloth.
  • The Romans took sheep with them as they went about conquering the world. They brought sheep to Spain, North Africa, Europe, and the British Isles. Thanks to the hardiness of sheep, in general they thrived everywhere they went.
  • The Saracens conquered Spain in the eight century and established a vast wool export trade, which extended to North Africa, Greece, Egypt, and even Constantinople.
  • By the 15th century, the Spanish wool trade was so lucrative that it helped finance the voyages of Columbus and the Conquistadores.
  • Columbus even brought sheep and goats with him to Cuba and Santo Domingo┬áin 1493.
  • Wool trade was closely guarded. Spain administered the death penalty to anyone caught exporting sheep.
  • England’s “empire of wool” peaked during the reign of King Henry VIII and by by 1660, wool textile exports were two-thirds of England’s foreign commerce.
  • England tried to discourage a wool trade in the colonies, but a few sheep were smuggled in anyway. By 1665 those few sheep had multiplied to nearly 100,000.
  • King George III of England made wool trading in the colonies a punishable offense. His efforts were in vain as the wool trade in America flourished.
  • Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson maintained flocks of sheep and both wore wool suits when they were inaugurated into the White House.
  • The industrial revolution propelled the wool industry forward with advancements such as combing machines and water-powered looms. Pioneers took sheep and the wool industry to faraway places such as New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
  • Australia is now the number one producer of wool in the world!
  • Today sheep thrive in nearly every part of the world. They are hardy animals an can live in rough, barren places where other animals cannot.