The Story Behind the Red Carpet (and Two Other Famous Carpets)

Here at DPM, we’re used to spending hours on end meticulously observing and analyzing carpeting. After all, cleaning carpets is our business.

But on Sunday millions of Americans will be doing the same thing as they stare at the crimson strip of carpeting that Hollywood’s biggest stars will walk leading up to the 88th Annual Academy Awards.

The “red carpet” has become a time-honored tradition at award shows— perhaps none bigger than the Oscars. It may very well be the most famous carpet in the world.

That got us thinking, how did this tradition arise? Where does the red carpet come from? And are there other, more well-known carpets in the world?

Because we love exploring all things carpet-related, we decided to seek out the answers to these questions and share them with you here today.

Where Did the Red Carpet Come From—and What’s It Made Of?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the concept of the red carpet as a high-end welcome matt dates back to Ancient Greece with the play Agamemnon in 458 B.C.

Flash forward a couple dozen centuries: In the early 1900s, the red carpet was adopted by the railroad industry to lead passengers to their train cars—which is said to have led to the birth of the phrase “red-carpet treatment”.

The red carpet didn’t hit Hollywood until 1922 when it was used at the premiere of “Robin Hood”, and it wasn’t used at the Oscars until the 33rd awards ceremony in 1961. Supposedly, the “red” carpet was just chosen to serve the practical purpose of guiding stars from their cars to the entrance.

For TV viewers, the carpet didn’t actually turn red until 1966 when the Oscars were broadcast in color for the first time.

Here are some other notable facts and stats about the red carpet used at the Oscars:

  • It’s approximately 16,500 square feet
  • It’s made from continuous filament nylon (side note: nylon is used in 65% of the carpet sold in the U.S. primarily because of its durability)
  • It takes two days to install the red carpet
  • It’s replaced every two years
  • It’s dyed with a blend of colors to make it look red on TV
  • It’s sealed to prevent the color from degrading

Two Other Famous Carpets with Great Stories to Tell

Is the red carpet the most famous carpet of all time? That’s a tough call.

While the term “red carpet” is familiar to most people, it doesn’t technically refer to a single, specific carpet. As we see above, even the red carpet used at the Oscars is replaced every two years. So it’s kind of a cheat.

There are some other carpets that are more unique and recognizable with great stories behind them. Here are two that seem to come up repeatedly in answer to the question “what’s the world’s most famous carpet?”:

The Ardabil Carpet in London

The Ardabil Carpet currently housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is one of a pair of matching carpets created in 1530s Iran. The carpets were made for the shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili.

After an earthquake in the 1860s damaged the shrine, the carpets were sold. To fix the damage to the carpets, pieces from one carpet were used to patch the other—creating one complete carpet and one smaller carpet.

The larger carpet was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1890s. The man the museum sent to inspect the carpet declared it: “of singular perfection … logically and consistently beautiful”. The smaller carpet is currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Portland Airport Carpet

Installed in the 1980s, the carpet at the Portland, Orgeon, airport remained in place for three decades (a great return on investment!). Its geometric pattern became instantly recognizable to many travelers.

The carpet eventually gained a following on social media (including over 14,000 followers on its Facebook page) and became a “hipster icon”. People began making socks, hats and other products using the iconic pattern.

Alas, in 2015, the 14-acre carpet was removed from the airport. But it’s legend lives on. The airport awarded four bidders 1,000 square feet of the carpet to sell off or use how they see fit.

Every Carpet Has a Story (and History) Behind It 

Certainly the two carpets above are in the conversation for the world’s most famous, or at least most interesting, carpets. Both have great stories attached to them—as so many carpets do.

That’s something fun to think about. When you’re watching the stars parade down the red carpet before the Oscars on Sunday just imagine if that carpet could talk what kind of stories it would tell.