This year plywood turns 100. I think plywood was one of the biggest changes in the construction industry. While it turns 100 this year, it really came into use about 50-60 years ago.
According to a good article in Tools of the Trade, plywood was first created by Portland Manufacturing Company in 1905 for wooden boxes. The thin wood veneers were spread with glue by hand and compressed together with house jacks. This was done in time for the 1905 World’s Fair in Portland, Oregon.
Plywood didn’t really take off until the post-World War II housing boom hit. In an effort to speed production plywood was accepted by the construction and financing industry. When I started in the construction business in 1972 plywood was commonly used for wall and roof sheathing as well as flooring and siding. I do remember one home we constructed in the early 1970’s where we used solid board wall sheathing. There was a shortage of plywood and we couldn’t wait so we reverted back to shiplap pine board wall sheathing….lots more nailing and time to put up.
Plywood uses more of the tree product than conventional boards. Reducing trees to thin veneers allows good use of the wood, and it also creates very strong structural elements when glued together properly. Today we use all types of engineered lumber. Some look like thick pieces of plywood.
Others look like wood I-beams. We use the I-joists for floor and roof systems. All this started 100 years ago when someone in Portland thought about gluing thin veneers of wood together.