The true origins of the craft of rope making are lost in history, however, there is fossil evidence of rope usage dating back to 17000BC. These early ropes were likely to belong pieces of vine twisted or braided together by using a hand. The historic Egyptians were most likely the first civilization to develop tools for constructing ropes around 4000BC.
Such ropes would have been made out of grass, water reeds or animal hair. These ropes would have been used by the Egyptians in developing their colossal structures such as the pyramids that still stand today. Hemp fibres were first used to make ropes by the Chinese around 2800BC and after this, rope making spread all through the rest of Asia and to Europe. In Europe, twisted rope has been hand-made using the ropewalk technique since the Middle Ages and by the late 1700s advances in technology meant that several machines for making rope had been constructed.
Ropewalks have been harsh working environments and would regularly catch fire as they were made commonly of wood and hemp dust can create an explosive mixture. Natural fibre yarns would be twisted to form strands which would spread the size of the building. These would then be counter-twisted to form the rope.
The length of the walk would restrict the length of rope that should be made but this allowed for ropes to be as lengthy as 300 yards for use on sailing ships, for which they were essential. The standard size for a British Naval Rope was 1000 ft. and a sailing ship such as HMS Victory would require over 20 miles of rope. Braided cords have also been around for centuries, but up until the 1800s they had all been braided by using a hand.
When automatic braiding machines were invented in the Victorian era, rope factories grew to become capable of producing high volumes of braided cords. Braiding machines had been originally used for smaller cords and laces but the development of larger braiding machines meant that by the middle of the Twentieth Century the manufacturing of braided rope grew to be widespread. Prior to the improvement of nylon by the laboratories of E. I. Dupont de Nemours in 1939, the only materials that had been available to cordage manufacturers were natural fibres.
The development of polyester and polypropylene followed in the 1940s and 50s and this revolutionized the textile and cordage industries. These developments meant that alongside the traditional natural fibres of manila, sisal, hemp, flax, cotton and jute, ropes today are more often made from nylon, polypropylene, polyethylene and polyester. This is because synthetic ropes are commonly stronger, lighter and greater hardwearing than the natural alternatives.
A rope is a group of yarns, plies, fibres or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. Ropes have tensile strength and so can be used for dragging and lifting. A rope is thicker and stronger than a similarly constructed cord, string, and twine.