MERCHANTS - CONSIDER YOUR PACKAGING
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
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
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
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
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.