Linoleum is a floor covering made from solidified
linseed oil (linoxyn) in combination with wood flour or cork
dust over a burlap or jute backing. The name comes from latin
linum for linseed, and oleum meaning oil. Mineral pigments may
be added to the materials used. In moderndlay parlance, linoleum
is often incorrectly used to describe vinyl flooring.
is made of linseed oil, pigments, pine rosin as a binding agent,
and wood flour and sometimes cork flour to bind and to ensure
colorfastness. In its manufacture, oxidized linseed oil and other
ingredients to form a thick mixture called linoleum cement. The
linseed oil is exposed to the air in a succession of thin films
until it is rubbery, or it is thickened by heating until it becomes
a spongy mass. Then it is ground to form linoleum granules, mixed
with the wood flour applied to the foundation and rolled smooth
between two cylinders, a process called “calendaring” The linoleum
sheets are hung in drying rooms to cure for 14-21 days. Today,
some manufacturers also bond a high performance coating to the
surface to make cleaning and maintenance easier.
The finest linoleum
floors, known as 'inlaid', are extremely durable; they are made
by joining and inlaying solid pieces of linoleum. Cheaper patterned
linoleums came in different grades or gauges, and were printed
with thinner layers which were more prone to wear and tear. Good
quality linoleum is sufficiently flexible to be used in buildings
in which more rigid material (such as ceramic tile) would crack.
Linoleum was considered to be an excellent, inexpensive material
for high use areas. Its durability is generally lasting 25-40
Linoleum's popularity was finally superseded
in popularity by vinyl flooring after World War II as vinyl was
cheaper and had a wider range and more vibrant colors. However,
there is currently a renewed interest in linoleum for a few
reasons: new types of linoleum offer more vibrant colors; it
is a “green” flooring
source as it is made from all natural materials available in
abundance; some homeowners want accurate copying of original
flooring; colors go all the way through the product, not just
on the surface; durability; it makes a design statement; its
natural fire retardancy; it is warm and comfortable under foot.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, it was favored in hallways and passages, and as a
surround for carpet squares. However, most people associate linoleum
with its common twentieth century use on kitchen floors. Its
water resistance enabled easy maintenance of sanitary conditions
and its resilience made standing easier and reduced breakage
of dropped china.
Linoleum was invented by Englishman Frederick
Walton probably around 1860; he patented his formula Dec. 19
1863. Walton was inspired to invent linoleum as a cheap substitute
for more expensive rubber composition (Kamptulicon). Walton
apparently got the idea for linoleum by observing the skin produced
by oxidized linseed oil that forms on paint. He mixed the skin
of he paint with ground cork, poured it on canvas, spread it
and invented the first rendition of linoleum. In 1864, he formed
the Linoleum Manufacturing Company and by 1869 the factory in
Staines, England was exporting to Europe and the United States.
However, linoleum was made famous by Michael Nairn in Scotland,
who developed the inlaid patterning that linoleum became best
know for. In 1877, the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, in Fife, became
the largest producer of linoleum in the world, with no fewer
than six “floorcloth” manufacturers in the town.
The first U.S linoleum factory was built in 1872.
The best grades
of linoleum were called " battleship linoleum", as a common use
of this material was in warships. Actual battle experience showed
this was an inappropriate material due to its flammability. Because
it is made of organic materials and is purportedly non-allergenic
in nature, high quality linoleum is still in use in many places
(especially in non-allergenic homes, hospitals and health care
facilities). The design and inlaying of various colors to form
patterns reflecting the shape and use of a room is a highly respected
For further information on the history of the
industrial uses of flax in the United States go to Whitman Eastman's History
of the Linseed Oil Industry in the United States , Chapter 5: "Uses
of the Products of the Flax Plant"