The History of Loose Leaf Paper

Loose leaf paper has an interesting history beginning in 1913 and remains on the top of most back-to-school lists.

Origins of Paper Size

Do you ever wonder why letter-size paper is 8.5-by-11 inches and not 9-by-12 or some other size? It has to do with the length of the vat men's reach. When paper was handmade, paper fibers were spread into frames that were 16 inches wide- the length of the reach of the paper vat workers. when the paper dried, it was cut in half to measure 8.5 inches.

History of Loose Leaf

The invention of 8.5-by-11 loose leaf paper also had a practical origin. Richard Prentice Ettinger in 1913 was working as a law clerk for Charles W. Gerstenberg when they wrote a book on corporate finance. They began publisher Prentice-Hall and published the finance book on credit. The tax laws changed so rapidly at that time, they were stuck with volumes on federal tax laws that were out of date almost as soon as they were printed. Ettinger cut the paper out of the bound book, replacing the few outdated pages, and drilled holes through the paper to place them into a three ring-binder. Ettinger created a loose leaf book that would not become obsolete. He later recalled, "The thing to do was to bring out a book that would not go out of date." Prentice-Hall then became an innovative and leading publisher of business and educational books.


In the United States, any paper that is not bound with glue or a spiral bind is considered "loose leaf." Loose leaf is shrink-wrapped in packages of 100 to 200 sheets or so. Loose leaf paper comes in two types: wide rule or college rule. Wide rule has more space between the lines for young students with larger handwriting. College ruled is narrow-lined for high school or college students to have more lines per page.


Only in the United States and Canada is the blue-lined paper with 3 hole punched paper and pink margins called "loose leaf." The United Kingdom and Ireland use the term "loose leaf" for a flexible system of storing loose pages.

Loose Leaf Today

Almost 100 years after Richard Prentice Ettinger invented loose leaf paper, the three-ringed paper is now available in more styles than wide-ruled and college-ruled. lists more than 59 different types of loose leaf paper. There is loose leaf paper with music staffs, graph lines and ledger rules. There is loose leaf watercolor paper and rainproof ruled paper. Loose leaf goes back to its roots with manuscript paper reminiscent of when it was an innovative way to keep a book from being obsolete.



About the Author

Lisa M. Russell is a writing professor and an instructional designer consultant. She teaches at Kennesaw State University and Ga Northwestern. She has a Master of Arts in professional writing from KSU. This published author is interested in eLearning and instructional technologies.