The engineered wood industry kicked up its heels on March 18 in Portland, Ore., the birthplace of softwood plywood, to celebrate the venerable product's 100th anniversary. More than 300 attendees took part in the centennial celebration banquet, which included a keynote address by Chet Orloff, director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society, a three-part video chronicling plywood's history, and awards recognizing people and companies for their contributions to the industry.
According to a historical timeline from APA–The Engineered Wood Association, softwood plywood was first developed by wooden box maker Portland Mfg. Co., which spread glue on its first panels with paint brushes and pressed them with house jacks in time for the 1905 World's Fair, where the product attracted “considerable” attention. The invention first took off in the industrial sector, used for products such as door panels and automobile running boards. In 1933, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (the future APA) formed, allowing the industry to organize, promote itself, and create standards.
In the years following, the APA says, the industry expanded in Canada and then into the South, when Georgia-Pacific introduced the first Southern pine–based plywood in 1964.
Considered the “original” engineered wood product, plywood gave rise to some of today's most popular engineered products, such as OSB, I-joists, and LVL.
Today, plywood has come full circle, Hardman says. Though OSB has taken over a large chunk of the residential construction sheathing market, plywood remains an important construction product and is again a key industrial product for uses like furniture framing and materials handling. Hardman predicts demand for plywood should remain steady for years to come.
In honor of the milestone, the APA is reprinting The Plywood Age, a commemoration of plywood's first 50 years originally published in 1955. For information on the book and to read a more in-depth history of plywood, visit www.apawood.org.