Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.

views updated

Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.

117 Antrim Road
Bennington, New Hampshire 03442
(603) 588-3311
Fax: (603) 588-3158

Private Company
Employees: 240
Sales: $57.2 million (1996)
SICs: 2621 Paper Mills

Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc. is the oldest continuously operating small paper mill in America. Although relatively small in size, the company ranks 22nd among the top 100 private companies in New Hampshire, according to Business NH Magazines 1997 survey. Monadnock provides printers and designers with papers for annual reports, brochures, direct mail, corporate identity, desktop publishing, and corporate communications of all kinds. In addition to its premium-branded lines, Monadnock manufactures specialty printing papers for applications such as fine art prints, papeteries, and conservation. The companys papers are distributed through an extensive network of stocking merchant partners throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other select offshore markets. Furthermore, Monadnock produces technical specialty and converting products for a wide range of uses, including high internal-bond abrasive backing; tape system components; durable book coverings; controlled porosity, sterilizable medical packaging; high porosity vacuum filter media; and latex-treated, aqueous-emulsion-coated, strippable wallcovering. The companys technical sales force sells these products to end-users primarily in the United States and Canada. Monadnock has been certified by the International Organization for Standardization for complying with the stringent requirements of the ISO 9001 standard. This certification provides a worldwide benchmark for the companys quality management and quality assurance in design, development, production, installation, and servicing of products.

The Early Years: 1782-1869

According to the companys history recorded in The New-comen Societys Over the Years With Monadnock, in 1782 Joseph Putnam was the first of several New Englanders who established businesses near the Great Falls of the Contoocook River in New Hampshire. Putnam bought 100 acres of land for £85 and built a grist and sawmill at the falls. As new settlers arrived and set up small industries, the mill became the center of a thriving village, known as Putnams Mills. Putnam and family members operated the mill until 1819, when Moody Butler acquired it. Although the main business of the mill had been to grind corn and saw logs, Butler saw the possibility for another use, namely, the making of paper. The main ingredients for this venture were readily available: an abundant supply of flax from the neighboring farms andfrom the Great Falls of the Contoocook Rivera plentiful amount of clear, pure, soft mountain water.

Because the supply of British-made paper had been cut off since the Revolution, American-made paper was in great demand in the United States. And during the War of 1812, Great Britains embargo on British goods made paper an even scarcer commodity. Taking advantage of a ready supply of flax and of abundant water from the Great Falls, Butler began to make paper by hand. The papermaking process was a simple one: the pulp was prepared by beating and boiling the fibers of the flax in vats. A thin deposit of the wet pulp was poured into a screen-bottomed tray and shaken until an even sheet of drained pulp was formed. This sheet was then placed between layers of felt, pressed to exclude the surplus water, hung and sized.

By 1828 handmade paper was a thriving industry at Putnams Mills; gradually, flax had been replaced by linen rags and then by wood pulp. In 1832 the mill buildings were sold to Butlers descendant, John W. Flagg. He erected new mill buildings and installed the latest papermaking machinery, including fourdrinier papermaking machines. These machines (named after their British developers, Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier) produced paper in a continuous strip, or roll. It was to Flaggs credit that his mill was probably the first of the paper mills to use machines to make paper. Flagg ran a growing business for the manufacture of writing and blank-book papers. In 1872, the area known as Putnams Mills became the town of Bennington, and the name of the paper-manufacturing company was changed to Bennington Paper Mills.

Expansion and New Mill Owners: 1870-1928

During the Civil War the paper business was slow and uncertain. After going through the hands of several short-term owners, the Bennington Paper Mills in 1870 became the property of William T. Barker. He bought new machinery, completely rebuilt and enlarged the mill, and hired more employees. It was also at this time that railroad routes were extended into Bennington and that pioneers were streaming into the West. The market for paper was greatly expanded and the Bennington Paper Mills, pioneers of the paper industry, shared in the prosperity.

In 1880 the Bennington Paper Mills became known as the Monadnock Paper Mills (hereafter referred to as Monadnock) and continued to use wood pulp to make bond, ledger, and book papers. In 1900 young Arthur J. Pierce came to Bennington to learn the paper business. After Barkers sudden death in 1903, Colonel Pierceas he was knownbought the mill and became the sole owner. He constructed a new brick building, which still houses the systems for stock preparations, and two fourdrinier machines. He installed every available new improvement for manufacturing paper, continued the production of writing and book papers, and expanded the range of bond and ledger papers. Colonel Pierce bought the balance of the dams and water rights along the Contoocook River and operated the paper mill efficiently until the late 1920s, according to Erving A. LeCain, author of A Pictorial History of Bennington, New Hampshire.

Decline and Renewal: 1928-1978

The Great Depression of the 1930s, the devastating 1938 flood, the near impossibility of obtaining equipment and replacement parts during World War II and, especially, the Colonels declining health in his last yearsall these events combined to reduce Monadnocks operating efficiency and profitability from about 1933 to the time of Colonel Pierces death in 1948.

In the absence of heirs, Gilbert Verney bought Monadnock and immediately assessed the situation: the plantlike many other small paper mills in New England that had not continually modernized their equipment and operating strategywas no longer competitive with larger mills operating bigger, faster paper machines. For example, of the two paper machines, only No. 1 Machine was runningand at a very limited speed of about 200 to 250 feet per minute. The mill itself was in poor condition; the staff was at a minimum; little marketing was being done; and there were practically no quality controls. Verney realized that only full-time operation could justify the very high fixed costs of the mill and assure its economic health. In early 1949, he put No. 2 Machine in operation. He also ordered basic repairs made to the mill and converted the power plant from coal to oil. Revival was obviously on the way when the Republic of China requested a large order for currency paper (50 percent rag) and regular shipments were sent to China for months.

Soon, however, the Korean War caused shortages and high prices for raw materials. To keep operating, the mill used kraft waste (wood pulp prepared with a sodium sulfate solution) to make kraft wrapping paper. After the Korean War it became obvious that the market for bond paper was quickly declining. New papermaking skills had to be learned to adapt to the change from letterpress to offset printing. Moreover, Verney remained acutely aware that the survival of the mill depended on further specialization and the development of greater technical expertise to serve special segments of the market. To this end, beginning in 1956 and for the next ten years, both paper machines were rebuilt: during each summer-vacation shutdown of two weeks, a major installation was accomplished, wrote historian LeCain.

First came the steam-turbine paper-machine drives that increased speeds and gave better controls; the next installation consisted of refining equipment, including new reels, winders, screens, and improved savealls (devices that operate on the principle of sedimentation, flotation or filtration to recover most of the fiber and filler from white water). Another important installation was that of Accuray equipment on each machine. In 1967 Monaanock was the first non-integrated mill (that is, a mill that did not produce its own pulp) to install beta-scanning gauges. According to LeCain, this equipmentlater made even more sophisticated through microcomputer technology allowed for very close control of the basis weight, the moisture level, the sizing pickup on each paper machine and caliper or thickness of the paper web, thereby giving the machine operator a basis for making more timely production changes. By the late 1960s, every portion of the paper machines and most of the stock-processing equipment had been replaced. Quality offset and opaque papers had been developed and refined. Furthermore, premium text papers and high strength book covers, top-of-the line uncoated printing papers used for the finest printing projectssuch as annual reports, advertising brochures, etc. had been added to the mills product mix.

Company Perspectives:

Committed to responsible stewardship of the environment, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc. consistently produces premium-quality uncoated papers manufactured according to the unique needs of customers in selected markets.

Verney pursued his conviction that only continuous development of new products to serve special segments of the paper market could assure Monadnocks longevity. By the mid-1960s, the mill had gained a major position for in the medical industry: supplying sterilizable medical papers for packaging medical devices. Monadnocks technicians also had been exploring the possibility of producing filter media for vacuum cleaners bags. Traditionally, vacuum filter paper had been made from rope fiber, but the mills technologists believed that the paper also could be made from wood fiber. After two years of lab work and tests representing the investment of thousands of dollars, an acceptable product was made for the Electrolux Company. In the following years, Monadnock also manufactured specialized filter paper for the Hoover Companyand remained a major supplier of this product. Additionally, the mill began producing strippable wallpaper, as well as tape and label papers.

During the 1970s, Gilbert Verneys sons, Richard and Geoffrey, joined the organization. That decade was one of continued progress and expansion. According to LeCain, the main thrust of the mills efforts was for ever-higher quality levels of paper for the graphic arts and the broadening of technical abilities in the specialty field. Monadnock became particularly skilled in the area of special chemical additions and latex saturation. Embossed book cover and specially saturated wallpapers were developed. Monadnock was now well established and of the highest reputation in its field.

Continuing Prosperity and Commitment: 1978-1989

In sum, Gilbert Verney bought a rundown paper mill and driven by a never-ending pursuit of excellencein 30 years transformed Monadnock Paper Mills into one of the finest small specialty/technical paper mills in the country. When he suddenly died in January 1978, Richard G. Verney, Gilberts eldest son, succeeded him as chief executive officer and chairman of the company. By cultivating new markets and customers, as well as investing in new facilities and equipment, Richard Verney kept Monadnock on its profitable quest for excellence. We have always taken the position that we want to be in business for the long term, he told Jane Eklund of the Monadnock Ledger in 1994, the year of the mills 175th Anniversary, and therefore we continuously reinvest. The key to long-term success in such a cash-intensive business, he pointed out, was to put profits back into the business, stay current with technology, and produce a consistently high-quality product. This long-term perspective for investments assured both continued growth of the company and job security for its employees.

In another interview conducted during the same year, Geoffrey VerneyGilberts youngest son and the mills vice-president of new product development and business communicationstold The Keene Sentinel that Monadnock did not want to be locked into a single market. Diversity is a fundamental element in terms of the security of our business. Geoffrey also pointed out that the strict quality requirements for medical products had raised the consciousness of quality for the manufacturing of our other specialty papers.

Monadnocks financial success and commitment to specialty paper products depended on the vision and creativity of technically proficient men and women. The company therefore provided the climate and motivation for continuing professional growth, and cultivated good relationships with all employees. In fact, while the company had been unionized in 1944, Local #472 never found occasion to call a strike.

From its beginnings at the Great Falls of the Contoocook River and throughout its evolution, Monadnock relied on an adequate supply of water, but found ways to protect this natural resource. Process water for manufacturing originally was obtained from the Contoocook River, but by the early 1990s process water came from wells of a local aquifer. Despite an increase in production tonnage of 40 percent over the course of the 1980s, Monadnock reduced water usage by more than 50 percent, going from 1,400,000 gallons per day to 650,000 gallons. The mill joined local communities and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to designate the Contoocook River for protection and preservation. Furthermore, unlike the large corporations, Monadnock did not own forests or process paper directly from wood, but bought wood pulp from pulp mills in the United States and Canada. Thus the plant did not generate the disagreeable odor associated with some other paper mills, said Monadnock Chairman Richard Verney during his Monadnock Ledger interview.

Studies of methods to treat waste water had begun as early as 1966. In 1973, even prior to the Environmental Protection Agencys guidelines for effluent treatment, the mill financed the construction of a wastewater treatment facility. For this accomplishment, United Paperworkers International Union, Local 472, presented the ecology flag to Monadnock. The mill also found a way to recycle short paper fiber (a by-product of wastewater treatment) into composting, thus reducing the addition of solid waste to New England landfills.

The 1990s and Beyond

Throughout the 1990s Monadnock continued to produce its family of premium uncoated papers in both virgin fiber and post consumer, waste-content recycled papers: Astrolite, Astrolite PC 100, Dulcet, and Caress. Astrolite, with its high opacity and dimensional stability for maximum contrast and consistent printability, was among the brightest and whitest text and cover papers available. Astrolite PC 100 was a 100 percent recycled paper, the ultimate in recycled paper. The use of post-consumer waste was a legitimate means of alleviating the stream of waste burdening Americas landfills. Astrolite PC 100 met nearly every specification of its sister-grade Astrolite. The production of Astrolite PC 100 testified to Monadnocks belief in the value of recycling and to the companys dedication to stewardship of the environment. Dulcet was a neutral white paper specifically color balanced to reflect the hues of transparent offset inks without distortion. Caress was a uniquely tactile, mellow white paper imparting a quiet elegance and subtle distinction to a wide range of printed communications. The Dulcet and Caress grades were alkaline pH/acid-free and buffered with calcium carbonate to enhance durability and longevity.

For a long, long time, paper has sort of been a medium for ideas. There are other media today, but I think many people feel theres a certain permanence to paper. It sort of gives you a feeling of security, Monadnock Chairman Richard Verney said in a 1994 interview reported in the Monadnock Ledger. The enduring quality of paper and the sense of security it can give could be seen as symbolic of Monadnock Paper Mills robust endurance during the best and the worst of times and of the job security it gave its employees. Indeed, as the 21st century drew near, Monadnock continued to set the industrys standard for the crafting of uncoated, natural paper surfaces. The company recognized that its business success and its employees security depended on consistent and prompt delivery of high quality, innovative products and services. Everyone aimed for the same goal: to meet the needs, and even surpass the expectations, of both internal and external customers. Implementation of this philosophy on all levels earned Monadnock the position of one that stands alone (English meaning of the Indian word Monadnock) at the forefront of specialty paper manufacturers.

Further Reading

Eklund, Jane, A Local Giant Reflects on 175 Years of Making Paper, Monadnock Ledger, September 29, 1994, p. 15.

, They Love Working at the Mill, Even with Shoes On, Monadnock Ledger, September 29, 1994, p. 15.

Made Here: A Weekly Snapshot of Local Manufacturing, The Keene Sentinel, October 29, 1994, p. 23.

Over the Years With Monadnock, New York: Newcomen Society, circa. 1950, 21 pp.

A Pictorial History of Bennington, New Hampshire, Bennington: 1989, 163 pp.

Gloria A. Lemieux