History of Cork

There have many been uses for cork throughout history. In 3000 B.C. it was used by the civilizations of the Mediterranean basin; by the Romans and Phoenicians, in Egypt, Babylon, Persia and even in China, especially as a seal for amphoras or casks, for shoes, as insulation for roofs or for fishing floats.

However, it was only from the 18th century onwards that cork production took off due to the manufacture of cork stoppers for the wine industry, when systematic harvesting of the great oak forests of the Iberian Peninsular began. This came about because it was noticed that the quality of the ageing process of wine in the bottle was improved when sealed with a cork stopper, particularly in the production of sparkling wine (champagne) which required laying down. Mention must be made of the innovative role of the French Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Perignon at Hautvillers Abbey, who started using cork as a seal in champagne-making, a tradition maintained to this day. This breakthrough in champagne quality led to the development of large companies in the early 18th century, such as Ruinart de Reims (1729) and Moet et Chandon (1743). The use of cork as a quality stopper spread to the manufacture of other wines, such as Port, during the 19th century.

Initially the cork-manufacturing process was entirely manual, but in the 19th century it became mechanized, thanks to improvements in technology, and the first machine for making cylindrical corks was patented in the United Kingdom, followed by machines for counting and calibrating. New industrial cork applications also appeared at this time, such as one for making simple agglomerates and 1920 saw the first production of cork flooring, an American invention. Ever since, the cork industry has been investing more and more in innovation and the development of diversified products.

Today the value of cork and cork derivatives has increased exponentially in the face of the growing trend to using natural and sustainable materials. There is currently a wide range of new products on the market for different sectors, such as in civil construction for flooring and insulation, the car, shipbuilding and aeronautical industries, for refrigeration systems, in fishing, sportswear, musical instruments, interior decoration, footwear, clothing and leather goods.