Figuring out the origin of anything is difficult, partly because the origin of anything is going to depend upon the definitions that one uses. Knowing when scrapbooks started requires people to define scrapbooks precisely. Scrapbooks themselves come in many different varieties, which is only going to make the definition fuzzier.
It is fair to say that scrapbooks the way people know them today would not be possible without the invention of photography. Most people are trying to preserve their precious and cherished memories, which will typically involve photographs. Many people confuse scrapbooks and photo albums, and indeed, the history of scrapbooks could very well parallel the history of photo albums.
The first photo albums go back to the 1830s and the 1840s. During this time period, photography was very expensive. People didn’t take photographs in order to commemorate random moments. If families ever took photographs at all, these photography sessions would take place during very important events. They would take the equivalent of family photographs, but they would not take photographs of their daily lives as people would later on during the history of photography.
The original scrapbooks were actually done for research purposes. The people that had the equipment for photography on that level, not to mention the funding, were probably going to need to be researchers in the first place. Some people might regard these as scrapbooks, and some people might not. Still, the researchers set many different precedents in more ways than one.
Scrapbooks the way we know them today are a product of the twentieth century. Many of the components of most modern scrapbooks are mass-produced items, and the mass-production of simple items became more common after World War Two. Hobby shops and craft stores are surprisingly modern, and these are all also products of industrialization.
Really, scrapbooks took off when photography became less expensive and people started taking more actual snapshots, as opposed to the carefully planned, artistic photographs that dominated the early days of photography. As photo albums became more common, scrapbooks also became more common.
However, part of the rise of scrapbooks was influenced by cultural changes. As anyone who has ever put together a scrapbook knows, scrapbooking is fairly time-consuming. You need to gather all of the necessary materials, plan ahead what you’re going to do, and spend some time assembling everything. I’ve spent way more than an afternoon on a scrapbook before, and that was for a scrapbook that I had already been designing in my head for a while.
You also need to have a certain degree of disposable income in order to successfully do a scrapbook. I don’t spend that much money on my scrapbooking hobby or anything, but between the hobby shop and the time I spend doing this when I could be earning money, the money is nothing to sneeze at. Poor people on the frontier could not scrapbook, especially since they were making their own soap and adhesives.
The rise of a large middle class occurred during the nineteenth century, and it become even more common after the Second World War. Plenty of people had more disposable income at that point, and they could do things like spend their disposable income at the hobby stores that were also starting to appear on the scene. Women staying at home and raising their children while their husbands went off to the office also took off during the 1950s. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the default for most of humanity up until that point as well.
The women who were staying at home and raising their children needed to pass the time. Women at the time were expected to be highly dedicated to their homes and families, even more than they are today. Scrapbooking helped women pass the time, and being able to create scrapbooks dedicated to their children and family members helped women feel as if they were passing the time in a way that really mattered. Naturally, making a scrapbook is also fun, and it is way more stimulating than watching afternoon soap operas. It isn’t surprising that housewives in the 1950s helped make scrapbooking the hobby that it is today.
You don’t have to be a housewife to enjoy scrapbooking. I’ve met plenty of guys in scrapbooking circles today, and most of the women I know who scrapbook do scrapbooking on the weekends or after they get home from work. Scrapbooking is a modern hobby that has found its way into the world of today very nicely, even though its origins were influenced by historical developments that have a way of seeming very foreign to us today.