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The Birth of Papermaking

AD 105 is often cited as the year in which papermaking was invented. In that year, historical records show that the invention of paper was reported to the Chinese Emperor by Ts'ai Lun, an official of the Imperial Court. Recent archaeological investigations, however, place the actual invention of papermaking some 200 years earlier.

The Process of Papermaking

Although the craftsman depicted in our statue would hardly recognize the equipment of a modern paper mill, the procedures he used to make paper were not that different from the processes of today.

Papermaking Moves to the United States

The first paper mill in America was established in 1690 by William Rittenhouse near Germantown, Pennsylvania. The Rittenhouse mill remained the only mill in America until 1710, when William DeWees, brother-in-law to William Rittenhouse's son Nicholas, established his own mill.Most early mills in the American colonies were started by transplanted papermakers, like Rittenhouse, who modeled their operations on European mills of the day.

With the Stamp Act of 1765, Great Britain tried to raise revenue by taxing all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, and pamphlets. Because of the export trade in paper, Britain attempted to restrict papermaking in the colonies, but due to the shortage of paper in America, these restrictions were not rigorously applied. It was only when colonial printers began to express their discontent with British rule that Britain really tried to control the production of paper.

*Ben Franklin's newspaper, "The Pennsylvania Gazette" was a leader in the fight for freedom from Britain, specialty with the Stamp Act of 1765, with limited source of paper this could be the end for printers in the New World. Franklin had just went into the manufacturing of envelopes, hat and wig boxes, bags for store keepers, bags for storage of yard goods, all made from paper.

This was just one of several uses of paper that he was looking into at the time of the Stamp Act of 1765.

*The First Paper and Paper Bag Machines in America

The first fourdrinier machine in the US was imported from England and erected in Saugerties, New York, in 1827. The second was built in Connecticut by mechanic George Spafford. He and his partner, James Phelps, completed the first American-built fourdrinier in May 1829 and sold it to Amos Hubbard at a cost of $2,426, along with the purchase came a paper bag making tread mill, human powered and was though to have been another one of the Frenchman Nicholas-Louis Robert inventions that Didot and Gamble had gotten English Patent's in 1809, a cylinder-type paper machine was introduced by John Dickinson of Hertfordshire, England. Amid great secrecy, Dr.Thomas Gilpin built the first cylinder machine in America at Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania. It produced a sheet 30 feet wide at a rate of 60 feet per minute.

One year later, 1810 he introduced the first water powered paper bag folding machine with the ability of producing 200 bags an hour.These ventures of mass producing paper and paper bags that were affordable to the better shops and stores, turns into a gold mine for Dickinson and his associates.


*Paper and the Paper Bag arrive in the West

In 1821, James D. Anderson and his brother John L. founded The St. Louis Paper & Bag Company in that fair city, in the state of Missouri. The company began small as a paper wholesaler but soon expanded its distribution to include other products such as gummed tape, twine and cordage. By 1824 the brothers encountered an increasing number of manufacturers in need of bags for storage and/or shipment of their products. One such company required large waterproof paper bags to export tobacco to Europe.

In response to this growing demand, the Anderson brothers invested in a paper bag machine from Europe and began manufacturing specialty paper bags. Over the next 13 years, markets for industrial packaging increased, as did the need for newer technology.

Paper bags had become a popular way of handling several items as one unit, some manufactured and many hand made, were used by shop owners for at least 50 years before 1821 in the eastern settlements and moved with the westward movement across North America, chances of the common paper bag showing up at the early rendezvous is possible but not recorded and probably not correct in this type of setting. The paper bag is documented as finding its way with the early movement of gold miners before 1849 and in Santa Fe as early as 1840, still questionable for a late period trader of the Fur Trade to have had with his line of goods.

When considering the hardships and wear and tear on articles being carried by hand or in a wagon, the common paper bag probably would not have heldup to what was needed to contain the contents and a muslin or cotton bag was not that much more in cost and would last for a period of time.

I talked to several historians at the Denver Natural History Museum, to get their thinking on the use of paper bags west of the Mississippi River before 1850. They agreed that do to the ruff use, they would not have been desirable. But did comment that fancy paper bags were available after 1850 in Denver at the more fashionable shops.

So dear old trader and fancy dan merchant, seems your out of luck trying to pass off the brown paper bag as being pre 1840 period, sorry.


Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of those that went before us.

Buck Conner  

"One who trades”

"Uno quién negocia"

“Unqui commerce”