the Fur Trade and Hudson's Bay Company
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The Beginning of the Fur Trade


The fur trade has been around for as long as people have been wearing clothes. Animals were hunted for food, and their pelts worn for protection.

The use of the hair from animal pelts to make felt was probably started by wandering peoples in Central Asia. They used the hair of goats, sheep, camels and other animals to make their tents. They found that felt lasted a long time and was easily made. One of the best furs for making felt was beaver. It became very valuable.

Did you know?
Felt is a cloth made by pressing, heating or treating animal hair with chemicals. It is valuable because it is waterproof, moldable, and doesn't wear out easily. The best kinds, like beaver, are very soft and smooth.

Later, many peoples such as the Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans used it as padding under heavy armour, or to stop arrows. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of making felt was lost in Western Europe. It did not come back until two things happened: First, crusaders visiting Constantinople saw the fine hats and other clothes worn by people there and learned how they were made. Second, a great invasion into Russia forced many felt makers west into Europe.

By the year 1600, the need for more beaver fur exploded. European beavers were dying out because of over-hunting, and new fashions, like hats, used lots of beaver felt. Which was why the discovery of the North American beaver was like a miracle to hat-makers!

Related Stories:

Preparing the Furs

Beaver hats
Beaver hats

Ask yourself...
Why was beaver fur so valuable?

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