For centuries, wood floors were the domain of only the wealthiest people in the world. Expert craftsmen labored for years on the same floor, meticulously cutting each intricate inlay or pattern by hand. The only other wood floors in existence were the rough, hand-hewn planks that formed the surface of some commoners' residences. Either way, each wood floor was the result of a painstaking hand-cutting process.
The wood flooring industry more closely resembling the one we know today began just before the turn of the 20th century. In 1885, the side-matcher was developed, creating flooring with a groove on one long side and a tongue on the other. This new milling allowed wood floors to be blind-nailed. The flooring was 7/8 inch thick, 2 1/2 or 3 1/4 inches wide, and most pieces were at least 8 feet long.
Thirteen years later, in 1898, the end matcher appeared. Until that point, all flooring ends of each piece had to be on joists, as subfloors were not commonly used. The mechanized manufacture of wood flooring prompted the suppliers to organize associations for the industry — the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association began in 1897, and the Oak Flooring Manufacturers of the United States, precursor to the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, traces its beginnings to 1909.
As the 20th century began, several important changes occurred in the industry. The side-matcher could allow hollow-backing on the boards, making them lighter and allowing them to conform better to subfloors, which were beginning to be commonplace. Flooring dimensions slimmed down: 5/16-inch, square-edge flooring and 3/8- and 1/2-inch flooring were introduced, helping to decrease hefty freight charges. Central heating was coming on the scene and wreaking havoc with the wood floors, but the advent of the dry kiln gave flooring a better chance to succeed in normal living conditions.