I recently played the game at Staples of trying to figure out which was the best price for copy paper. Is it cheaper to buy five reams and receive a rebate in a month for four of them? Am I better off buying one ream for one cent and the rest at full price? Will I ever use three full cases so I should buy two and get a whole case free? It is worse than BOGO.

But all this time spent pondering paper choices got me to questioning why paper is the size that it is. Think about it: 8-1/2 by 11 is an odd size to be the standard.

So I turned to trusty Wikipedia and read something that I don’t read very often: “the precise origins of the dimensions of US letter size paper are not known.” The guess is that they came about because they were “a quarter of the average maximum stretch of an experienced vatman’s arms” in the days of manual paper making. Now there’s a precise measure!

Ronald Reagan contributed to the standardization by making the 8-1/2 x 11 the official paper size for all US government forms, and now it is the defined standard per the American National Standards Institute. Thank goodness, because think of what expense and chaos it would cause if printers, binders, form processors and copy paper came in different sizes.

I like the saying “it is what it is” and I guess it refers to the size of paper too. Now if Staples could only simplify its paper buying choices as much as the paper producers have…

— beth triplett

Source: Wikipedia

Thanks to Curt for asking!

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