The Origin and History of Cork – Simplified Chronology


Cork is a highly versatile material, applied in a variety of contexts, from wine corks to wall coverings. But how did it become so important and widely used?

A group of cork oaks, in Portugal

In this article, we will explore the origin and history of cork, telling you about the use of cork nowadays and some curiosities about this material.


  1. Origin of cork
  2. The History of cork
  3. Cork in the modern era
  4. Curiosities about cork
  5. Conclusion

1. Origin of cork

Cork is produced from the bark of the cork oak, a tree that grows in the Western Mediterranean, mainly in Portugal, Spain and North Africa. The first known mention of the use of cork is by the Greek historian and philosopher Theophrastus, who lived in the third century BC. Teofrasto mentioned the use of cork by the people of the region to make stoppers and textiles.

However, the commercialization of cork only started in the 18th century, when the cork stopper began to be widely used to seal wine bottles. The growing demand for cork stoppers led to the development of the cork industry in Portugal, making it the largest in the world.

Drawing of the philosopher Theophrastus, the first to mention cork

2. The History of cork

Over the centuries, cork has been used in many different ways. Here are some highlights of cork’s history:

  • In Ancient Greece, cork was used to make fishing floats, sandals and other items of clothing;
  • The Romans used cork to make bottle stoppers and containers, as well as sandals and shields;
  • During the Middle Ages, cork was used to cover walls and roofs, as it is a natural insulating material;
  • In the 18th century, cork began to be widely used to seal wine bottles, which led to the development of the cork industry in Portugal;
  • During the First World War, cork was used to coat aircraft because it is a fire-resistant and light material;
  • In the 1950s, cork began to be used as thermal and acoustic insulation in buildings;
  • More recently, cork has been used in a wide variety of products, from wall and floor coverings to fashion accessories and decoration.
Typical First World War aircraft, coated in cork

3. Cork in the modern era

The demand for renewable and sustainable products has led to an increase in the use of cork these days. The cork industry continues to grow, with new applications for cork constantly being discovered.

As a versatile and popular material, cork is being applied in the fashion and accessories sectors (for example, as an alternative to animal leather, as cork has a similar appearance and is resistant and durable), architecture (as wall and floor coverings due to its insulating and acoustic properties) and interior decoration (in furniture, decorative objects such as vases, lighting elements and even toys).

Growing concern for the environment and sustainability increases demand for renewable materials, and cork is expected to be even more widely used in the future.

Detail of the cutting and punching process of high quality cork planks to produce natural cork stoppers

4. Curiosities about cork

Cork is a fascinating material and full of curiosities. For example, cork is 100% biodegradable, recyclable, and its production helps to preserve the biodiversity of the Mediterranean region. Cork is also a very resistant material, which makes it ideal for use in products that require strength and durability.

Another curiosity about cork is that the bark of the cork oak is harvested in a sustainable way, without harming the tree. The harvest is done every nine years, and the bark grows back, making cork a sustainable and renewable material.

In addition, cork is a material resistant to water, fire and bacteria, making it an ideal choice for various applications. Cork also has insulating properties, making it energy efficient in buildings and insulation products.

 Stacked cork planks

5. Conclusion

The history of cork dates back to Ancient Greece. Since then, cork has been used in various applications, through 100% sustainable and renewable production, from cork stoppers to wall coverings and acoustic and thermal insulation. Cork production is sustainable and renewable. Cork is characterized by being recyclable, biodegradable and versatile, which will certainly continue to be increasingly popular and used in the future.

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