Are Legal Pads Legal Sized?

By Nicole Tinkham

Pictured: Universal letter sized legal pad in canary

A legal pad is a pad of lined paper (usually canary but other colors available as well) bound at the top with a margin down the left side. These pads are often used for jotting down quick notes and ideas during meetings. Are you familiar with them? We thought you would be! However, there still seems to be confusion when it comes to the sizing of these pads. Being known as legal pads, we find that most people think that means they’re legal in size too (8.5” x 14”). This is not always the case because of the multiple options available.  Aside from the sizing issue, there are many other curiosities when it comes to these pads including how the name came about and why they are yellow. First, let’s take a look at the history of these popular pads.

The History

In 1888, Thomas Holley was working at a paper mill. Every day the mill would throw out left over paper from cutting large sheets down (what a waste!). Holley didn’t want this scrap paper to go to waste so he cut the sheets down to the same size and bound them together, creating the first legal pads.

Size & Ruling

You may be thinking legal pads are just like any other notepad, right? What sets legal pads apart from other notepads is the 1 ¼” margin on the left side. This margin was added in the early 1900’s as requested by a judge who wanted the space for comments next to his notes (hence the name ‘legal pads’).  Legal also refers to the ruling, or space between the horizontal lines. That being said, legal pads are not necessarily legal sized (but do come in 8.5 x 14). You will also find them in letter (8.5 x 11) and junior legal (5 x 8) sizes. Here’s a list of all sizing and ruling options available:

Aside from size and ruling, there are several other options when it comes to legal pads. Below you will find some of the special features to consider.

Special Features


As mentioned before, even though legal pads come in a variety of colors, they are commonly found in yellow (canary). At this point, you’re probably wondering, “why yellow?” It may come as a disappointment, but how yellow became the primary color is still a mystery. It’s not likely that Thomas Holley started making legal pads in this color as the dying process would cost him more and ruin his business plan. No one seems to know when legal pads started being produced in yellow or why. Could it be easier to read with black ink contrasting on the yellow paper without a glare or was it eventually dyed yellow to hide the fact that it’s made of scrap paper? Your guess is as good as ours. If you have an idea (no matter how crazy it may be) on how legal pads became yellow, please share in the comment box below!

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