Paper is a thin material produced by pressing together moist fibres of cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets. It is a versatile material with many uses, including writing, printing, packaging, cleaning, decorating, and a number of industrial and construction processes. Papers are essential in legal or non-legal documentation. 

In the 13th century, the knowledge and uses of paper spread from China through the Middle East to medieval Europe, where the first water powered paper mills were built. Because paper was introduced to the West through the city of Baghdad, it was first called bagdatikos. In the 19th century, industrialization greatly reduced the cost of manufacturing paper. In 1844, the Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty and the German F. G. Keller independently developed processes for pulping wood fibres.  

The word "paper" is etymologically derived from Latin papyrus, which comes from the Greek, the word for the Cyperus papyrus plant. Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the pith of the Cyperus papyrus plant, which was used in ancient Egypt and other Mediterranean cultures for writing before the introduction of paper into the Middle East and Europe. Although the word paper is etymologically derived from papyrus, the two are produced very differently and the development of the first is distinct from the development of the second. Papyrus is a lamination of natural plant fibres, while paper is manufactured from fibres whose properties have been changed by maceration.  

There are two major mechanical pulps: thermomechanical pulp (TMP) and groundwood pulp (GW). In the TMP process, wood is chipped and then fed into steam heated refiners, where the chips are squeezed and converted to fibres between two steel discs. In the groundwood process, debarked logs are fed into grinders where they are pressed against rotating stones to be made into fibres. Mechanical pulping does not remove the lignin, so the yield is very high, >95%, however it causes the paper thus produced to turn yellow and become brittle over time. Mechanical pulps have rather short fibres, thus producing weak paper. Although large amounts of electrical energy are required to produce mechanical pulp, it costs less than the chemical kind.  

All paper produced by paper machines as the Fourdrinier Machine are wove paper, i.e. the wire mesh that transports the web leaves a pattern that has the same density along the paper grain and across the grain. Textured finishes, watermarks and wire patterns imitating hand-made laid paper can be created by the use of appropriate rollers in the later stages of the machine.  

Much of the early paper made from wood pulp contained significant amounts of alum, a variety of aluminium sulfate salts that is significantly acidic. Alum was added to paper to assist in sizing, making it somewhat water resistant so that inks did not "run" or spread uncontrollably. Early papermakers did not realize that the alum they added liberally to cure almost every problem encountered in making their product is eventually detrimental. The cellulose fibres that make up paper are hydrolyzed by acid, and the presence of alum eventually degrades the fibres until the paper disintegrates in a process known as "slow fire". Documents written on rag paper are significantly more stable. The use of non-acidic additives to make paper is becoming more prevalent, and the stability of these papers is less of an issue.  

Paper made from wood pulp is not necessarily less durable than a rag paper. The aging behavior of a paper is determined by its manufacture, not the original source of the fibers. Furthermore, tests sponsored by the Library of Congress prove that all paper is at risk of acid decay, because cellulose itself produces formic, acetic, lactic and oxalic acids. 

Conventional bleaching of wood pulp using elemental chlorine produces and releases into the environment large amounts of chlorinated organic compounds, including chlorinated dioxins. Dioxins are recognized as a persistent environmental pollutant, regulated internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Dioxins are highly toxic, and health effects on humans include reproductive, developmental, immune and hormonal problems. They are known to be carcinogenic. Over 90% of human exposure is through food, primarily meat, dairy, fish and shellfish, as dioxins accumulate in the food chain in the fatty tissue of animals.