Is Anything Really Made in the USA?
Virtually everything comes with a wealth of history, which is often accompanied by many years of stories or experiences. Take a look around your home and consider that nearly every product in your immediate environment is more multifaceted than it may seem at first glance. For example, we take for granted even the simplest things such as the tiles that adorn our homes. Alternatively, one trip to Portugal where tiling is a coveted art form will quickly place things in perspective. Beginning in the early 1920s, the use of tile became prominent in the United States, particularly in southern California. However, Americans had nothing to do with the origins of tile, as artifacts have been discovered dating back as far as 18,000 years. Not quite as long ago, but still far from present day, the Egyptians were adorning their pyramids with tiles around 5,000 B.C. Such tiles remained sacred ornaments until after the industrial revolution when they transformed from being only available to the wealthy, to being available in more common terms. Still, for most of history, tiles were predominately used in churches and cathedrals.
Luckily for Americans, the Spanish Colonial Revival style was integrated in areas of the southwest such as California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Ceramic and clay tiles were being rapidly introduced by way of the Panama California Exposition in 1915. Some historians have claimed that the similarities between the climates of California and Spain are responsible for the movement of the style from one country to the next. As a result, there are multiple noteworthy mansions in this region now under museum protection that illustrate the versatile use of tiles as decorative tools inside the home. Some have been used for baseboards, fireplace borders, flooring, or even as liners of window seats.
More currently, the use of tile has rapidly expanded over the last four to five years with sales posting double-digit increases. Some of this growth can be attributed to the affordability of tile relative to years past. In fact, current prices are the lowest they have been since World War II. Yet, price alone will not elevate a product to this status. Rather, much of the popularity is attributed to its versatility and durability. In terms of versatility, tile can be obtained in many textures, colors, shapes, sizes and glosses. Furthering this, during the installation process, patterns and designs can be integrated to add unmatched uniqueness to a space. With regards to its durability, properly installed tiles will most likely outlast the structure in which they are placed. This is great not only for your pocketbook, but also for the environment, as they do not then need to be repeatedly replaced. Sadly, materials that are only designed to last 7-10 years contribute greatly to the amount of waste that is accruing in present day landfills. Lastly, a fringe benefit is the ability to use tile in a multitude of places, such as for countertops, walls, ceilings, pools and floors, amongst nearly any other surface. This versatility has created a heightened demand beyond domestic production.
In 2006, the largest importer of tile to the United States was Italy followed by Mexico. Remarkably, in 2006, Mexican imports were over 10% greater than in the previous year. Brazil came in as the third largest importer, and China and Spain took the fourth and fifth places respectably. Current import percentages illustrate the changing desire from higher-cost production goods to a preference for imports from places where production costs are lower. This translates into good news for American consumers, and despite what one would have initially anticipated, the domestic tile market grew as well. This is worth noting because as technology allows us to quickly and easily locate products from all over the world, a general disconnect from our immediate marketplace emerges. What cannot be forgotten though is the importance of supporting the industries located in our own back yards. America, as a nation, used to be a manufacturing powerhouse, and although a transformation to higher skilled services is important, we cannot assume that the economy will continue to function properly after having outsourced all of our manufacturing ability. For this reason, it is important that there are organizations that are protecting American manufacturers.
Stateside, the Tile Council of North America acts as a resource for all individuals and businesses associated with the tile industry. They provide a wealth of educational material, as well as, act as a liaison between the industry and outside parties. Further, they have established a testing facility that evaluates particular tiles' ability to withstand certain environmental pressures. For example, they can quantify how much the tile will flex under various load-bearing applications. Of course, some tile is going to be better suited for areas of less traffic; where as, some tile is suitable in areas of high traffic. Additionally, the facility assesses various tiles for their strength against extreme temperatures and levels of moisture. There is certainly not a lack of tile flooring information available to either the consumer or the producer. This in turn is a great benefit to anyone looking to add tile to their home, for they can focus their attention on the design aspects and feel comfortable that the rest is well researched and documented.