Who Invented Towels? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Nothing is more relaxing than smothering yourself in a warm towel as soon as you step out of the bathtub or shower. Towels became a part of everyone’s lives as they are used to dry face after washing first thing in the morning. But aren’t you curious who invented this bathing essential?

Who invented towels?

Most historians give credit to people in Bursa, Turkey, for producing the first bath towels. Due to the significance of baths, the towels—thin, woven pieces of cotton or linen—played a significant role in Turkish culture.

Towels’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • People of Bursa, Turkey
    First to use woven cotton or linen called peshtemal

    The first use of a towel is associated with Bursa, Turkey, because of the woven linen or cotton they call peshtemal. This towel is enough to wrap the body, although it is narrow.

  • Turkish Weavers
    The developers of havlu

    Due to the creative pressure put by the women in the palace, weavers invented the first looped towel called havlu. These towels have loops sticking out from the cloth, which helps absorb water.

  • Samuel Holt
    First cotton terry cloth towels are produced

    The terry cloth towel weaving process was initially used with silk in France in 1841. However, Samuel Holt used cotton to weave terry for the first time in 1848.

  • Henry Christy
    The one who perfected terry cloth

    Fast forward to 1850, when Henry Christy of England perfected this process through industrial or commercial terry weaving.

  • U.S. cotton manufacturers
    Who made cotton more accessible

    Towels were initially for the rich because cotton and linen were expensive. Thanks to the industrialization of U.S. cotton, towel manufacturers began producing more affordable towels.

When were towels invented?

In the 17th century, Turkish people used peshtemal, flat-woven cotton, or linen to dry themselves after bathing.

A brief history of towels

Towels have been existing since the 17th century. It is an invention associated with Bursa, a city in Turkey.

Back then, Turkish towels were a flat, woven piece of linen or cotton called a peshtemal, usually embroidered by hand. These towels also have enough length to use as a body wrap and were initially fairly narrow, far from the wider modern towels that usually measure 90 by 170 centimeters. In Turkish baths, peshtemal is used since they don’t become heavy after absorbing water and are very good at moisture absorption.

However, as the Ottoman Empire expanded, the use of towels also became popular. Weavers were urged to embroider increasingly intricate motifs, helped by their carpet-weaving ability. But the history of the towel doesn’t stop here. As the generations changed, women at the palace kept asking for more elaborate, gorgeous items.

The necessity of having luxurious towels was paramount. The first looped towel was created somewhere in the 18th century. It is because of all of the creative pressure being put on the weavers.

Towels started to show loops poking out from the pile of cloth during the 18th century. The Turkish term for towel, havlu, which means “with loops,” has replaced the word havly, which was once used to describe these looped towels.

The weavers had skillfully utilized a second warp thread to draw it above the towel’s surface. Afterward, they lock this into place with the weft or shuttle thread along the length of the warp thread. After years had passed, the weavers added more looping threads on towels, which led to havly being entirely covered in loops. It marked the start of the towel as we know it today.

In Turkey, there is just one family of weavers and their helpers who are still capable of using this method on traditional looms. Isn’t it amazing?

In the 1890s, terry cloth took the place of plain linen towels. These new towels are softer and more absorbent than their predecessors.

The weaving technique used for terry cloth towels was first used with silk in France in 1841. But in 1848, cotton was used to weave terry for the first time, which was done by Samuel Holt. Fast forward to 1850, when Henry Christy of England developed an improved version of this technique through industrial or commercial terry weaving.

It became possible as toweling material could be acquired by the yard and also in finished items as this nation’s cotton industry industrialized. Huck-abacks, diaper weaves, and “crash” toweling were only a few of the several available types of toweling. Linen was not widely woven for commercial purposes in the U.S. until the 1890s.

As you can see, towels were only accessible to the wealthy in the past. It was in the 19th century that towels became affordable because of the beginning of the cotton trade and industrialization.

Modern towels also come in different sizes, designs, and materials. Designers and weavers started collaborating, leading to beautiful intricate motifs that added style and beauty to this otherwise plain-woven piece of cotton.

Towels timeline

  1. 17th Century
    Peshtemal are invented

    During this year, people in Bursa, Turkey, use flat, woven cotton or linen to dry themselves after bathing. They call it peshtemal. Ottoman Hamman and Persian culture also used this towel to keep individual bathers’ privacy.

  2. 18th Century
    First looped towel was made

    The first looped towel was created due to the creative pressure being put on the weavers. It was called havly, which later became havlu, a Turking word for a towel. Havlu marked the beginning of the towel very similar to what people know today.

  3. 1848
    The first cotton terry cloth was weaved

    It was during this year when cotton was used to weave terry cloth towels, which was initially a weaving process used with silk in France.

  4. 1850
    Commercial weaving of terry cloth

    Fast forward to this year, Henry Christy of England perfected this process through industrial or commercial terry weaving. During this period, plain linen towels were replaced with terry cloth, which is softer and more moisture absorbent. 

  5. 19th Century
    Towels became affordable

    In this century, the cotton trade and industrialization began, allowing the mass production of terry cloth towels. For this reason, towels became widely accessible and lower in price.

Where were towels invented?

The invention of towels was associated with Bursa, Turkey, as people in this place used ‘peshtemal’ to dry themselves after a bath. Peshtemal is flat woven linen or cotton. 

The importance of towels

  • They help you dry and prevent the spread of germs

    Towels have an excellent absorbing ability, making them a perfect tool to dry hands after washing. While hand dryers and antibacterial soaps are available, wiping hands with a towel is the easiest and most effective way to dry them, preventing germs from spreading.

  • Towels are worn for privacy

    While most people use towels to dry their bodies after bathing, these bath essentials are also worn for privacy, particularly while changing clothes in a public area.

  • They add style to your bathroom

    People tend to overlook their bathrooms when it comes to styling. Adding colorful, luxurious towels are among the easiest ways to add style to bathrooms and can also help personalize the space. Meanwhile, damp or stained towels don’t look that good and won’t leave a good impression.

  • Towels gently exfoliates skin

    It might be unexpected, but towels help exfoliate the skin. While drying the skin, towels gently remove dead skin cells, essential to keep the skin looking radiant and fresh.

Towels by the numbers

  • 55 American households spend $55 billion yearly on home textile items like bedding, sheets, and towels. It proves that towels hold a vital part in every household.
  • 400 A good quality cotton bath towel weighs around 400 GSM or more. These towels are soft, and the fabric is more densely woven, making them more absorbent than those with lower GSM.
  • 100While alternative materials are more popular, 100% cotton still makes up the majority of towels. Other fibers used to weave towels are flax (linen), bamboo, polyester (microfiber), alternative wood fibers (Tencel), ramie, and hemp.
  • Generally, bath towels last up to 2 years before you need to buy a new one. When in doubt, check if the towel had reduced absorbency compared to when you first used it.

Five facts about towels

  • Initially used for ceremonial baths

    In ancient times, Turkish people initially used towels as ceremonial items. The bride would have a pre-wedding bath, and every area of her body would be covered with bath sheets to dry her off.Soon, additional rites like body and spirit cleansing began using towels. It was referred to as the “Hammam” in Turkey.

  • National Towel Day

    The 25th of May is observed as “National Towel Day” to honor Douglas Adams, the author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” where he emphasized the importance of a towel. This event is celebrated by those who love him and those who love reading his books.On May 11, 2001, Adams passed away. Two weeks later, the inaugural National Towel Day was marked and has been observed annually since.

  • Skin cells are all over a dirty towel

    You might not believe it, but every time you dry yourself using a towel, most dead skin cells will be wiped off at the first twenty layers of skin. In addition, a person has 650 sweat glands that could contribute to the dirt absorbed by the towel.

  • Initially exclusive to the rich

    Before the 1800s, towels were only accessible by the nobles and the rich due to their expensive manufacturing process. Today, people can choose from various types and designs of towels at an affordable price.

FAQ about towels

  • How should I wash my towels?

    Machine wash or hand wash them using less non-chlorine detergent. Afterward, tumble or line dry them and add some fabric conditioner to the wash to maintain the softness and durability of their fibers.

  • Why are towels hard after washing?

    Hard towels after washing result from too much detergent on the wash. Over-drying towels can also cause them to become hard.

  • How often should you change towels?

    After three uses, change and wash your bath towels. This way, germs, and mold won’t start to build up on the towels.

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