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Native to the shores of the Mediterranean basin, cork has been employed by mankind since ancient times. Cork stoppers, buoys and sandals have been found in archeological sites that date as far back as ancient Egypt.

The Greeks first discovered that stripping cork from the tree produced a new, higher quality cork sheath. They, along with the Romans, utilized cork in many new ways, including construction, insulation, nautical uses – even the first personal flotation devices.

Eventually, cork production centered in southern Europe and North Africa, primarily around the Iberian Peninsula, where the climate was ideal for the cultivation of the cork oak. The vast cork forests of Portugal and Spain were carefully cultivated, and the 8-10 year cycle of harvests begun. This same cycle is followed today.

As Portuguese and Spanish explorers circled the globe, cork played an important role. Its unique insulation and floatation properties ensured that cork would accompany all major seagoing ventures as an integral material in the construction of ships and other seagoing equipment.

In the late 19th century, the process of agglomeration was developed by an American. Agglomeration is a process in which waste cork from the stopper industry is combined with a binder to produce a usable product. This greatly expanded the applications of cork, and usage blossomed.

Today, cork is one of the most versatile and widely accepted materials on Earth. It is among the most renewable of all natural resources. These many virtues of cork guarantee its future worldwide.

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Cork Institute of America
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