Carpet has been a vital part of the flooring industry since the beginning. Here are some excerpts of this essential product’s history, taken from the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) website at carpet-rug.org.
“The carpet industry in the United States began in 1791 when William Sprague started the first woven carpet mill in Philadelphia. Others opened during the early 1800s in New England. In 1839, Erastus Bigelow permanently reshaped the industry with the invention of the power loom for weaving carpets. Bigelow’s loom, which doubled carpet production the first year after its creation and tripled it by 1850, is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collections. He continued to devote his life to innovation—35 separate patents were issued to him between 1839 and 1876. Bigelow introduced the first broadloom carpet in 1877.
“The [tufted carpet] industry began in a simple way, around the turn of the century. A young Dalton woman, Catherine Evans Whitener, recreated a bedspread in a hand-crafted pattern she had seen, for a wedding gift. Copying a quilt pattern, she sewed thick cotton yarns with a running stitch into unbleached muslin, clipped the ends of the yarn so they would fluff out, and finally, washed the spread in hot water to hold the yarns in by shrinking the fabric. In the 1930s, as a result of the demand for more bedspreads, the first mechanized tufting machine, attributed to Glen Looper Foundry of Dalton, was developed.”
A good read for those of you interested in the origin of carpet is a book by Thomas M. Deaton: Bedsheets to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry (Photo 1).
From hand-sewn seams to constructing a seam with radio waves, many of the tools for carpet installation have come a long way. In other areas, some of the original ideas and tools implemented over 165 years ago haven’t changed all that much. My good friend Daris Mulkin, a Master ll carpet installer (#1623) who is now retired, is a great source of information on older and antique carpet tools. He has a book of over 500 patents relating to carpet tools and is my go-to man for any questions regarding old/antique tools.
If you ever have a question about old carpet tools, he’s the one to ask. The oldest carpet stretcher that he has patent information on is one from J.W. Weatherby of Kingsville, Ohio. The patent number is 10,143, which by itself tells you that it was one of the early numbers when patents came to be (Photo 2). The patent was dated October 18, 1853 so yes, 165 years ago.
How about the knee kicker? The first patent Daris could find is from February 12, 1907, patent #844107 by Jay Driver from San Leandro, Calif. (Photo 3)
A knee kicker from over 111 years ago, a power-stretcher from 165 years—and the concepts haven’t changed much. We still use a power-stretcher head with pins, extension tubes, and a tail block for the walls, today.
One of the new things I’ve seen in regards to power-stretchers is from Gundlach. Another good friend who has been in the installation business for many years and developed several tools, Maurice Despins—along with Beno J. Gundlach—has created a power-stretcher that utilizes pin block technology. Almost all power-stretchers until now have had fairly long pins to stretch carpet, with an adjustment bar for different thicknesses of carpet pile. With Gundlach’s pin block technology, the 17-in. wide stretcher head has 30 replaceable pin blocks that nest together—with each pin block including five, molded-in, zinc-plated steel pins to securely grab all types and weights of carpet with no adjustment required for pin depth. The stretcher head pivots 30 degrees in both directions (Photo 4).
I’ve taken the stretcher to jobs for installers to try out and they all want to take it home. The only disadvantage to the head is that you can’t use a knee kicker on the tool to help position the carpet if it pulls away from the wall; the fix is to have a stronger angle with the power-stretcher poles so that when stretching the carpet, the head doesn’t move the carpet away from the wall.
Carpet seams have gone from hand-sewn to the hot melt seam iron. From what Daris has found, one of the first hot melt seam irons dates back to the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, by an inventor named Burgess. Today, hot melt seam irons are still the No. 1 tool used to construct seams, but technology has resulted in some advancements. The Kool Glide tool from Traxx uses radio-wave technology to construct seams. These are not microwaves, so it is much safer. A special foil seam tape designed for the tool is required. One of the great features of this technology is that the seam can be reactivated if necessary. The tool also has multiple uses with hard surface products.
Another product that complements traditional hot melt seam irons as well as the Kool Glide system is the Seamer Down Now—a tool invented by an installer who was trying to figure a better way to cool down a seam. Daniel Bennett, the flooring installer/inventor, came up with the idea to use airflow to cool down a seam without compromising the strength of the seam. In fact the tool makes for a stronger seam.
The concept is that air is drawn up and away from the seam tape, potentially drawing the hot melt into the carpet backing, creating a stronger seam while cooling it down in a very short time. It is also a great tool in conjunction with the Kool Glide tool for patterned carpets.
Patterned carpets, as we know, typically need to be manipulated in order to match. With the Kool Glide and the Seamer Down Now, an installer has the ability to stretch and match the patterns and “spot bond” at intervals. The installer can then go back and seam the entire length without having to knee kick or manipulate the carpet, as it is already pattern-matched using the two tools together. Photo 5 shows installer Bizmarck Peralta constructing a patterned seam with the tools.
Full-wrap steps have always been time-consuming. Trying to knee kick the carpet and then trying to match the seams on the back edge of the step is always a headache (Photo 6 shows Ray Knapp working on this type of installation). Some installers will try to pre-cut the lengths so that the seams come together but the challenge there is to have an even kick when using the knee kicker.
Ray Knapp is a tool rep for Taylor Tools and has invented a tool through his other company, Gramps LLC. This is a stretcher designed to assist the installer in creating an even stretch on full-wrap steps. The tool has a stretcher head with a handle for even stretching; bars are attached to the stair stretcher and hook to the stair tread to keep the stretcher in place (Photos 7 and 8).
Now that we’ve had a chance to read about some of the history of carpet and the tools used to install it, it becomes clear that many of the same tools and techniques are still used today. This means that books written about carpet installation years ago are still a good resource for installers to see how things were—and are—done. Two books I still have in my library are: The Essentials of Modern Carpet Installation by D. J. Duffin, from 1962 (Photo 9) and The How-To Handbook of Carpets by A.S. Garstein, from 1979 (Photo 10).