Invented by Frederick Watson around the mid-1800s, linoleum is a composite made of solidified linseed oil (flaxseed oil), cork dust, wood flour, pine rosin, mineral fillings such as calcium carbonate (limestone), and a variety of coloring additives – most commonly on burlap or canvas backing. The word itself comes from the Latin words for linseed oil – linum (flax) and oleum (oil).
Waterproof, and capable of appearing with a variety of permanent colors and patterns, there was nothing else like it available and it became popular almost immediately. High quality linoleum is also flexible, encouraging its use in places where rigid materials, such as ceramic tiles, would crack. Since it is made from organic materials it is non-allergenic in nature and biodegradable. Properly taken care of, linoleum flooring can last decades.
Linoleum is considered to be the first product name to become a generic term, but the material did eventually lose its popularity to flooring made from vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, which is still popular today) and asbestos floor tiles. However, high quality linoleum is still in use in many places, such as non-allergenic homes and hospitals. It is also used in break dancing as an alternative to cardboard.