Essay-Paper History 
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If you were touring the ruins of Pompeii in Italy or at the bottom of the ocean filming the Titanic or in the workshop of Nicholas Louis Robert in France in 1799 when he sketched the first continuous paper former you would quickly realize that history isn't just a classroom credit! History is drama, mystery, intrigue, nostalgia and romance. It's yesterday and today and it's all around us. It's the stuff that great stories are written about and films are made.
Drying LoftAt the time of the American Revolution, in the last years of the 18th century, the process of making paper in the American Colonies was still, in many respects, similar to the way it was made since 105 AD when paper was invented in China. Stock was made in a vat, couched (pronounced cooched) and drained in hand held molds, a sheet at a time, pressed in a wooden screw press and draped over posts or hemp rope to dry. To read about paper manufacturing during the American Revolution click here.
Nicholas Louis Robert launched the mechanization of the paper industry barely 200 years ago when he conceived the idea of a machine to produce a continuous roll of paper to fill urgent needs for banknotes after the French Revolution. He was awarded a patent in France in 1799.
Katie & John 1890There is great romance, looking back in history and to machinery designs of the past or to gaze into the faces of people long gone that helped shape our world and wonder what they were thinking as their picture may have been taken or sketched and wonder what their contribution was to their future generations. Progress of course is necessary but it always seems history and past generations had more class, grace and style. With paper machinery, castings had graceful curves, painted in shiny enamel with pin striping. Dryer frames etc. appeared to be designed as much for their esthetic appearance, in a geometric patterns, than the service they were to perform.  
Vatman & CoucherIt is simple to question the technology of times past. The fact is, even though paper was made sheet by sheet, up to the 18th century, " vatman"  and "couchers" were referred to as artisans. There were complaints of the lack of skilled artisans to fabricate good molds to make paper of the quality required in those times. When paper was being hand made, two precision moulds and one deckle were required at each vat. It was essential that the deckle fit the mould perfectly. It was painstaking work and a great accomplishment to make these moulds considering the materials and tools available at the time.
Wood Mortice dryer GearAs the paper industry mechanized,  looking back, the equipment and processes may appear, simple and crude when compared to today's automated operations. In it's proper context however, wood mortise dryer gears, weight and lever loading, plain friction bearings, chain and sprocket control systems and cone pulley belt drives were high technology in their day. The technology of the past presented it's own unique challenges to the machinery builders and paper makers and required great skills and expertise in all the engineering and process specialties to make quality products for their marketplaces. Pretty much the same challenges we face today. For an example of early 1900s technology, visit The St Lawrence Paper Company Story  
Working and living in our current mill environments we become aware of the evolution of machinery and processes.  As older designs are replaced by new, the uniqueness of both the equipment and the operation disappear forever but linger in history for all of us to wonder about and sometimes admire. In our normal work experience we also become aware of the rise and fall of companies within our industry. We see giants in industry rise to great prominence and decline to obscurity while smaller and newer companies rise to fill the void. Again, the old culture is replaced by the new, sometimes with sadness and trepidation. 
How do the fortunes of once great companies like Pusey & Jones, Bagley & Sewall and Beloit Corporation, get in a situation that they find their only option is to cut back or cease operation entirely? What tips the balance? Certainly it is more than the normal business cycle. Generally, after such companies cease operation, looking at them in retrospect we realize they built good machines that embodied advanced technology for their times. In most cases the ex-employees professed great respect for the companies they worked for and were proud of their accomplishments. Of course some of this is nostalgia but the historical record, in many cases, supports this view. To read an overview of the Pusey & Jones story click here . Or  click here for a more timely story, in our day and time,  "The Rise and Fall of Beloit Corporation". Many considered Beloit the greatest and best,  a company destined to survive just about any calamity but now, a footnote in history.   

There are times when the historical facts lead to a conclusion that may or may not be valid. Many historians support the conclusion that TS'ai LUN invented paper in China in the year 105 AD. Still, there are other historians that differ from this conclusion. So there we have it! The very first conclusion of the history of paper may be  somewhat clouded even as we make paper of the highest quality today in widths 30 feet wide, at 55 MPH.  Perhaps new revelations some day will confirm or invalidate that paper was invented in China in the year 105 AD by TS'ai LUN. All the historical facts aren't in yet - and they may never be!

Curiosity drives the search for history! As new information is uncovered and more is learned, we may modify our earlier opinions. The more we find out about history, the more interesting it becomes. The search continues for paper history. Old and obsolete designs are recorded in etchings, engineering drawings and photos. It is up to us to find where the skeletons of times past are buried. It could be out there in someone's vault or little black books, waiting to be revealed to the world. 

Union
          Geithus Mill Main building 1876Obviously no region has a lock on history. The Paper History Channel web site is heavy on USA paper history. Our associate editor from Norway, Oyvind Haugen, has submitted many articles for the Paper History Channel including the story of the Union Geithus Mill where he is employed. The Union Geithus Mill is located in the village of Geithus, Norway, some 90 kilometers west of Oslo, founded on March 19, 1873.  His article chronicles the 100 year history of the Pusey & Jones # 3 paper machine that has been making paper since 1897. Recently the mill shut down. Click this link Nordic Paper's Shutdown of PM3 to review Oyvind's story of the mill shutdown after 104 years of operation.. 

This article authored by Luigi Bagnato

Luigi Bagnato
The Paper History Channel
October 1, 1999
Update: March 2002

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Comments to:lbagnato@tampabay.rr.com or gringo2@frisurf.no.