MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Standard Paper Is 8.5″x11″

It’s always a good idea to keep reams of paper on hand wherever you may be working, whether it be your home or your office. But have you ever wondered why the standard paper size is 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches long?

In the early days of paper production, the Dutch pioneered a technique whereby workers dipped wooden paper molds into vats of pulp & water. Then, once they dried…voila! You got paper!

After some trial & error, they settled on a standard frame size of 44 inches long to accommodate the laborers’ outstretched arms. And, when you divided that by four, it resulted in a paper size of 11 inches.

The width backstory is a bit less clear, however. It could’ve been that the Dutch allowed for 17 inches on the mold to make room for watermarks (which were regularly used at the time). So, cutting those in half meant paper ended up being 8.5 inches.

But with people using typewriters, copiers, printers, etc., it didn’t make a lot of sense for there to be so many paper sizes. Paper needed to be one-size-fits-all. And paper that was 8.5 inches by 11 inches allowed for 65 to 78 characters per 6.5 inches of type (which is what you get after you subtract the 1-inch margins).

This size became more prevalent when American Presidents Herbert Hoover (in the 1920s) & Ronald Reagan (in the 1980s) each mandated those dimensions be used for all government forms.

But 14 inches is also a standardized paper length, with those extra 3 inches believed to have come from lawyers who needed more room for verbose legal documents. That’s why 14″ paper is often called “legal-size paper”. This particular sized paper has also gotten more & more popular amongst restaurants, where the additional space is helpful when listing a long list of menu items.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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