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Red carpet history: Where did it come from and why is it red?

For decades, the red carpet has evoked all the VIP glamour and glitz of Hollywood, but why? And when did it all start?
/ Source: TODAY

For decades, the red carpet has evoked Hollywood glamour and glitz — but why? And when did it all start?

From an entertainment standpoint, cultural historian Amy Henderson of Washington, D.C. credits the late showman Sid Grauman, who founded the legendary Chinese Theatre and Egyptian Theatre, both in Los Angeles. When Grauman opened the Egyptian Theatre in 1922, he held the first-ever movie premiere — and he rolled out a red carpet for the stars, Henderson said.

Renee Zellweger at the 2004 Oscars. The awards show has rolled out a red carpet since 1961. AP

"It was a grand movie palace and the site of the first Hollywood premiere," Henderson told TODAY Style. "It was the first time they had, as an industry, gotten their act together enough to say, 'Ta-da, we're going to showcase what we do.' That was a big deal and the red carpet was very suitable."

We're not alone in our curiosity about the red carpet. There are many reports about its history — Mic piqued our interest with this recent story. Henderson, too, has written about the topic for (In 2013, she curated an exhibit for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery about dance's place in pop culture, complete with its own red carpet.)

Grauman may have been the first to use the red carpet in Hollywood, but it actually dates back centuries.

The red carpet at the Oscars stretches about 900 feet long and 33 feet wide.AP

"There are references to the Aztecs and Mayans using scarlet-hued carpet in the 15th century," Henderson said. "The reason, I've been told, is that scarlet dye was very rare, so it was quite a high-status symbol to have a carpet dyed scarlet."

That might explain why the color is still used today.

Experts also cite the ancient Greek play "Agamemnon," in which a king is asked by his vengeful wife to walk down a "crimson pathway," as the first historical reference to a red carpet. And in the early 1900s, the red carpet was used by the New York Central Railroad, to usher VIP travelers aboard the trains, according to Henderson and other experts.

Arguably the most famous red carpet today is the one that precedes the Oscars every year. But the awards show didn't actually start using a red carpet until 1961, a spokesperson told TODAY Style in an email.

While the Oscars may not have been among the first to adopt the red carpet, theirs may still be the most grand: The carpet at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where the Oscars have been held since 2002, stretches about 900 feet long and 33 feet wide.

Red carpets have also popped up at other awards shows and fashion shows, including the White House Correspondents dinner and even outside of the recent All-Star baseball game.

“Whatever event that wants to be self-advertising as glamorous and glitzy, there is a red carpet,” Henderson said. “It’s a status symbol, a runway for celebrity.”

Now when you see one, you’ll know a little more about how it got there.