The history of rugs is long and distinguished.
Some of the oldest known examples of rugs date back to the 5th century B.C., to southern Siberia. These rugs were knotted with symmetrical Turkish knots—shepherds in this region knotted wool into woven cloth, which were developed into heavy rugs—and are most likely of Persian origin. These rugs were then knotted onto woven backing, which allowed for a wide range of designs and textures. After centuries, the Turkish or symmetrical knotted pile technique is still used today to make area rugs in Iran, Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus; the Persian or asymmetrical knot technique is also used in Iran, as well as India, China and Egypt.
Rugs originally developed in central and Western Asia, as they acted as coverings for dirt floors; they covered the floors of tents, houses, mosques and palaces. For wealthier families, rugs served both an aesthetic and practical purpose. Persian rugs were also used as curtains, blankets, tomb covers and coverings for tent openings.
Felt rugs were also made and used throughout Asia; exemplary examples of such rugs can be found in northern Mongolia. During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, throughout Asia Minor and the Caucasus, rugs were woven using vivid colors and included various geometric shape patterns, such as stars and polygons, along with Kufic writing. Within Persia, rugs were named after the tribes or villages that they originated from; the names of Oriental rugs, then, refer to the city or region in which the rug was created.
Little known, the expansion of Islam is one of the key ways that rugs spread to other regions beyond Asia Minor and Central Asia. As Muslims used personal rugs for prayers, the use of the rug spread as Islam expanded into Spain and Eastern Europe.
The first commercial rug industry started in England, in towns such as Wilton and Axminster. Today, both towns are famous for their rugs and carpets, and in the U.S., many hotel chains include carpets made in Axminster. In 1848, Erastus B. Bigelow, an American, invented the power loom, which manufactured Wilson carpets. Bigelow’s power loom dominated the industry until the 1940s, when tufted carpets began to be produced. In 1950, tufted carpeting made up approximately 10 percent of the market share in the U.S.; today, it makes up over 95 percent of all rug and carpet sales today.