Historical trade catalogs document rug and carpet options available in the 20th century

Courtesy BTHL

This article is part of a monthly series that explores historical applications of building materials and systems through the resources of the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, etc The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Learn more about the archives here.

In fiction and fantasy, rugs and carpets have historically been given magical powers of flight, leading the protagonists to distant lands or away from danger. But in reality, flooring serves much more functional purposes: it insulates, provides underfoot comfort, dampens unwanted noise, and provides decorative options for interiors.

Below, the BTHL documents carpets and rugs available for residential applications throughout the 20th century.

The right rugs and carpets from Telfer, Telfer Carpet Co., Des Moines, Iowa, c. 1900
This first catalog offered carpets, rugs, curtains and linoleum flooring for residential applications. To achieve wall-to-wall coverage, Telfer sewed 27” wide carpet or rug strips with border designs.

The James Dunlap Carpet Co.Philadelphia, 1906
This catalog includes 66 pages of rug designs, often depicting traditional floral and geometric designs.

“C” pattern bookCarson Pirie Scott & Co., Chicago, 1913
Founded in 1854 as a department store, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. sold a variety of flooring options, including rugs, cut-to-size carpets and linoleum. There are several grass mat designs made from twisted prairie grass that the company claims are “suitable for porches, kitchens, summer homes, and cottages.”

Let Hartman Pluck Your NestHartman furniture and rugs, Chicago, 1922
This comprehensive publication offers everything from prams to fences, plus rugs and carpets in prairie grass, wool and velor.

FlooringMohawk Carpet Mills, Amsterdam, NY, 1929
At the time, the Mohawk Co. claimed to be the only American carpet maker “producing all accepted modern weaves – Chenille, Wilton, Axminster, Velvet, and Tapestry.” This catalog offers more than 80 models in traditional and modern designs.

International Crochet Flooring, Firth Carpet Co., New York, c. 1930
Firth Carpet Co. provides fanciful, sometimes dramatic descriptions of the company’s international search for unique “hooked” rugs. Each drawing is accompanied by the story of its discovery.

Columbia Book of Yarn RugWm. H. Horstmann Co., Philadelphia, 1936
Wm. H. Horstmann Co. sold yarn rug frames, patterns, needles, and yarn for buyers to knit their own rug. “This book shows attractive rugs that can be made economically, easily, and quickly by Columbia’s new method of rug making,” according to the catalog. The designs available feature animals, plants, tribal patterns, and geometric patterns.

Woven Flooring: Retail ManualMohawk Carpet Mills, Amsterdam, NY, 1949
This retail manual, intended to serve as a handbook for the Mohawk Carpet Mills sales team, provided an overview of the wool manufacturing and carpet weaving processes.

1951 Carpet SelectorGordon Mackay and Co., Toronto, 1951
This catalog contains traditional rugs and linoleum floor coverings from various manufacturers, as well as advertisements for underlay rugs under wall-to-wall rugs, a mid-20th century innovation.

Olson reversible mats with twice the wearOlson Rug Co., Chicago, 1962
The Olson Rug Co. claimed to be “the world’s largest and oldest rug and carpet weaver dealing directly with American homes.” This catalog offers rugs and carpets in reversible rolls in uniform colours.