Manila folders were originally made from the fiber of the abaca plant grown in the Philippines. The abaca plant, Musa textilis, is also known as Manila hemp, or simply Manila. It is not related to the hemp plant but is instead a close relative of the banana. Abaca is native to the Philippines, whose capital city, Manila, has thus become associated with the folder.
Originally, the abaca fiber used to make manila folders was grown in the Philippines. First sold in the 1800s, early manila folders made of abaca had a much stiffer consistency, resembling cardboard. While abaca is no longer used to make manila folders, the yellowish-brown color that is now classic to manila folders is reminiscent of the original material and namesake of the product.
By 1921, the United States had established abaca plantations in Central America, and expanded production dramatically during World War II. Nonetheless, the world's largest producer of abaca remains the Philippines, where abaca is still a major fiber crop. Today, abaca is used to make rope, fiber arts, textiles, and it is still used for paper, if not for manila folders.