According to ancient writings paper was first made by a eunuch in the court of the Chinese emperor Ho Ti. He is thought to have used the bark from a mulberry tree. The earliest known paper that still exists was made from rags in about a.d. 150. China was the only area where paper was made until the technique surfaced in Japan and then in Central Asia. The Egyptians did not make paper until a.d. 900. Around 1150 a papermaking mill was built in Spain and the art of papermaking spread throughout Europe. The English built their first mill in 1495; it was 200 years after this that paper was first manufactured in America.
In 1690 the fist paper mill in the American colonies was constructed in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It was built on the banks of the Monoshone Creek by William Rittenhouse, a papermaker trained in Germany and one of the first Germans to settle in the New World. His ambition was to make fine white paper from the raw material of rags. During the American Revolution (1775–1783) the Rittenhouse mill donated paper for pamphlets and newspapers. Paper was also used to make gun wadding and cartridges used in the war.
Papermills sprang up to meet the demands of a growing market. New mills thrived that were near cities and towns and that had a plentiful supply of rags for the basic raw material. A new job title emerged for those seeking employment in the paper industry. For lack of any more sophisticated name, the word "ragpicker" was coined for those that scurried around the cities collecting rags for the papermakers. There were approximately 185 paper mills in the United States by 1810. The supply of rags used to make paper was running low and papermakers began looking for alternative materials. On January 14, 1863, the Boston Weekly Journal became the first U.S. newspaper to be printed on paper made from ground wood pulp.
As the United States grew in size so did the paper industry. Technology kept up with the need for faster production. The first practical machine for papermaking was invented in 1798 by Frenchman Nicholas Louis Robert. An improved machine constructed by British brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier appeared in 1803. The first machine that produced paper in a continuous sheet was installed by Thomas Gilpin in Wilmington, Delaware in 1817. Straw and wood were being used as raw materials and machine speeds were greatly increasing. Paper was now being made in longer and wider dimensions.
By the late 1990s the United States and Canada were the largest producers of pulp, paper, and paper products in the world. The U.S. paper industry was accountable for approximately one percent of the U.S. national income. In the 1990s the United States employed 750,000 workers in the paper industry alone.
Towards the end of the twentieth century conservationists became concerned with the impact of paper production on the environment. Paper mills had the unfortunate tendency to foul the water supply and destroy wildlife. The industry set a goal to recover 50 percent of all used paper via recycling by the end of the twentieth century. By 1999 it appeared that this estimate was low; twice as much paper was recovered for recycling as was sent to landfills. Another economic and social issue affecting the paper industry at the turn of the century was the promise of a "paperless" world by those who believed that technology and commerce would shape every facet of society. Instead of this outcome, technological growth seemed to be followed by an increase in the demand for paper. This growth appeared to be based on the premise that paper is universal and relatively inexpensive; replacing it with electronic apparatus makes communication exclusive and, in some cases, too expensive.
1995 Lockwood-Post's Directory of the Pulp, Paper and Allied Trades/122nd Year. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1994.
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Smith, Maureen. The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production: An Argument for Restructuring (Urban and Industrial Environments). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.
Toale, Bernard. The Art of Papermaking. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1983.