The newsLINK Group - How Drywall Changed the Building Industry

Editorial Library Category: Mining Topics: Drywall Title: How Drywall Changed the Building Industry Author: newsLINK Staff Synopsis: People have been using gypsum as a building material for thousands of years. “Gypsum” comes from the Latin word “gypsos,” and it means “plaster.” Historians have found examples of gypsum that was used in 3700 B.C. while the pyramid of Cheops was being built. Editorial: How Drywall Changed the Building Industry 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 People have been using gypsum as a building material for thousands of years. “Gypsum” comes from the Latin word “gypsos,” and it means “plaster.” Historians have found examples of gypsum that was used in 3700 B.C. while the pyramid of Cheops was being built. The builders of that time wove straw laths together and then applied gypsum blocks and plaster to the resulting latticework. It is still possible to see some of the results of their efforts, including walls that have murals on them; the murals were created in tinted plaster. Additional historical examples of how gypsum was used can be found in the palace of Crete’s King Minos around 1200 B.C., or in the work of sculptors during the Middle Ages. You might know that alabaster is a stone, but what you might not realize is that alabaster consists of fine-grained sedimentary gypsum rock. Alabaster was popular because it is easy to carve, and even relatively thick alabaster, with a depth of one or two inches, can allow light to pass through it. A French chemist named Lavoisier did a chemical analysis of gypsum in the late 1700s. Other chemists soon became interested, too. When huge gypsum reserves were discovered close to Paris, people started mining it. Soon they had created something called Plaster of Paris, which is still in use today as a building material. Plaster of Paris is gypsum that has been chemically altered by heat. The heat removes the water in the gypsum. When water is added back in to the gypsum, it can be used to plaster a surface. People still use Plaster of Paris today. The first use of gypsum in the U.S. was agricultural. Benjamin Franklin saw French farmers using gypsum as a soil additive, and he began promoting its use in farming when he returned from France. Initially, the U.S. bought its gypsum from Novia Scotia because people had not yet found any within U.S. borders. That changed in 1792 after gypsum was found in New York State. The discovery of other gypsum beds soon followed, including sum near Fort Dodge, Iowa, which later dominated the gypsum industry. According to J.M. Boutwell in bulletin number 223, published by the U.S. Department of the Interior and dated November 18, 1903, gypsum beds were also soon located throughout the U.S., including in central and southern Utah. Gypsum was used primarily for farming instead of building from roughly 1792 until about 1894. Two men, Augustine Sackett and Fred Kane, decided to make wall boards from paper, straw, and tar in 1880. By 1888 they had created something they called “Sackett Board,” which was plaster of Paris between layers of felt paper. Felt paper did not make a satisfactory wall finish, but it did make an excellent replacement for wooden slat lath. Gypsum plaster could then be applied on top. In 1893, the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was built using a mixture of gypsum plaster and fiber. In 1894, Augustine Sackett patented a manufacturing process for Sackett Board. By 1901, he was making almost five million square feet of the boards per year. He sold the Sackett Plaster Board Company to U.S. Gypsum, or USG, and served as USG’s director until he died in 1914. By 1916, the company was producing boards with a paper-based covering in standard, four-foot widths that were ready to finish. USG eventually changed the name to sheetrock. This was the first real drywall. Today, of course, it is also called drywall. The term “drywall” is a reference to the fact that, unlike plaster, installing drywall doesn’t require the use of water. Production of the original board was discontinued less than a year later. Innovations continued during the following decades. Gypsum boards were the preferred fire-resistant building material for the construction of military housing during World War I, and the demand continued during World War II. In fact, this is when demand for gypsum board really increased. It was quick and inexpensive to use, at a tenth of what plaster walls cost; not only that, but plastering walls required too much work for a country that was experiencing labor shortages in the construction industry. There simply wasn’t enough time to install a layer of wet plaster and wait to let it dry before