Oh No! Someone Just Asked Me To Order A Legal Pad

The only requirement for a pad of paper to qualify as a legal pad is that the paper must have a 1-1/4″ vertical line placed from the left edge of the page.

“Order me some legal pads, will ya?” Sounded easy enough…until you launched the options.

A Legal Pad can be ordered with legal ruling and in legal size paper, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, neither the width of the rules (or lines) on the paper nor the size of the paper on the pad have anything to do with whether a pad of paper is considered a “Legal Pad”.  Does that clear things up? If not, here is some help to make it EZ-ier to understand which Legal Pad you need to order.

What exactly is a Legal Pad?

The only requirement for a pad of writing paper to qualify as a “legal pad” is that the paper must have a 1-1/4” vertical line (aka “down line”) placed from the left edge of the page. The original and traditional appearance of the legal pad had yellow paper, blue horizontal lines, a red vertical line creating a left margin, and a red gummed top. Today, that is no longer the case.

Note: A “legal pad” does not mean that the paper size on the pad itself is legal-size (8-1/2”W x 14”L), although it can be ordered that way. A Legal Pad just means the paper on the pad has a vertical line drawn down creating a 1-1/4” margin from the left side.

Then why do we call it a Legal Pad?

Because back in 1900, a local judge in Holyoke, MA asked if he could get the pad with a margin on the left side by drawing a line down from top to bottom. Thus, it became known as a legal pad.

What paper sizes are Legal Pads made in?

In North America, where we are generally accustomed to reading width, length and height displayed in fractions versus decimals or millimeters, Legal Pads generally come in four different sizes:

  • A6 Size: 4-3/25” wide X 5-22/25” long
  • Junior Legal Size: 5” wide X 8” long
  • Legal Size: 8-1/2” wide X 14” long
  • Letter Size: 8-1/2” wide X 11” long

What does Ruled or Ruling mean on a Legal Pad?

“Ruled” or “Ruling” simply refers to the horizontal lines on the paper. But! The ruled lines come in different widths and consequently create more or less lines on the piece of paper.

What widths of Ruling can be chosen for the paper on a Legal Pad?

In North America, ruled paper is available in a variety of semi-standardized formats. Remember, all legal pads have a vertical line drawn 1-1/4” from top to bottom on the left side of the paper to create a margin:

  • Wide ruled. It is also called or known as Legal Ruled.
    • 11/32” line spacing between lines – has the least number of lines on the page
      • Choose wide ruled or legal ruled if you write large
      • Often used in American grade schools
  • Medium ruled. It is also called or known as College Ruled.
    • 9/32” line spacing between lines – has more lines on the page than wide ruled
    • Its use is very common in the United States
  • Narrow ruled.
    • 1/4” line spacing between lines – has the most number of lines on the page
      • Choose narrow ruled if you write small, if you need more lines per page, or if you’re a glutton for punishment when required to write a 2-page paper for school (you’ll have a lot more lines to fill with text)
  • Gregg ruled. This ruling is specialized for stenography and should not be referred to as a Legal Pad.
    • Line spacing has 11/32” between lines (like wide ruled) but the horizontal line for the margin is drawn down the center of the paper
  • Pittman ruled. This ruling is also specialized for stenography.
    • Line spacing has 1/2” between lines
  • Manuscript ruled.
    • Used to teach young children how to write. A blank sheet consists of rows of three lines (the space between them depends on the age group being taught) with the middle line in each three-line set being dotted.
    • The D’Nealian writing style is a well-known teaching method that makes use of this type of paper ruling.
    • A Beka Book utilizes this ruling along with a house metaphor(upstairs, downstairs, and basement) to help young children learn where parts of each letter should be written.

Does a Legal Pad mean the paper is always yellow?

Nope. The original Legal Pad was made by dying the paper the paper yellow. Other than speculation, nobody really knows for sure why. In fact, it’s more expensive to buy a yellow legal pad than a white one. Today, legal pads (with the 1-1/4” margin on the left) come in a variety of colors:

  • Yellow (also called Canary)
  • White
  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Green
  • Ivory
  • Orchid
  • Pink

So the next time someone says; “Order me some legal pads, will ya?” You’ll know to follow with: “Sure, be happy to. First, tell me”…

  1. What size do you want the paper to be…Letter, Legal, Junior legal, or A6 paper?
  2. What ruling would you like…Wide, medium or narrow?
  3. What color would you like the paper to be?

A little history: How the “Legal” Pad got its name

According to legend, Thomas W. Holley of Holyoke, Massachusetts invented the legal pad around 1888 when he came up with the innovative idea to collect all the sortings (excess paper scraps that were substandard) from various factories and stitch them together in order to sell them as pads at an affordable and fair price. In about 1900, the latter then evolved into the modern legal pad when a local judge requested for a margin to be drawn on the left side of the paper. This was the first legal pad.

Thomas W. Holley founded the company called Ampad (American Pad & Paper) back in 1888. It was acquired by Mead Corp in 1986, known as the Ampad Holding Corp and became a subsidiary. In 1992 the holding company purchased American Pad & Paper from Mead. It went public in 1996 but couldn’t sustain profitability so it delisted from the NYSE in 1999. They filed for Chapter 11 and then sold to an affiliate of an investment company in 2003. In June 2010, they were acquired by Esselte. Today, Ampad exists among the North American brands of Esselte (Pendaflex, Oxford, Xyron, Rapid and Ampad brands).