Forest Products and Paper Manufacturing

The forest products industry has sales of over $200 billion annually, and employs about 900,000 people. Americans use more than 20 million tons of printing and writing paper each year. Much of this enters the postal system as letters and direct mail, magazines and catalogs, newspapers, packages and packing material. There are about 500 paper mills in the U.S., producing about a third of the world’s output.

Source: American Forest and Paper Association

Paper is the Raw Material of the Mailing Industry

The look and feel of paper are two of the reasons printed material is still important in the Internet age. Paper is durable, portable, and can be easily shared and saved. Paper can be embedded with security features that prevent counterfeiting and other misuse. Modern paper enables graphic artists and designers to create beautiful, eye-catching images that capture the imagination and encourage the recipient to respond. [Deeper Learning: Commerce and the Mails in the Early 19th Century]

Paper Making Began a Long Time Ago

The earliest documented use of paper was in China over 2,000 years ago. In all likelihood, they mixed mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, mashed it into pulp, pressed out the liquid, and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun. According to some scholars, Muslims learned Chinese methods and brought the process to Europe during the 9th century. The first paper mill in Europe was built in Spain. The Spanish improved upon the hand pulping process using water mills and trip hammers, and this process spread throughout Europe.

Paper Making Comes to America

The first American paper mill was established near Wissahickon Creek, near Philadelphia in 1690 by William Rittenhouse. This mill was the only one in America until 1710, when another family member started another. Most of the paper makers came from Europe and used the same process. It was a highly specialized craft.

Nathan Sellers of Pennsylvania was a skilled wire drawer who applied his craft to the manufacture of paper molds. This ability was so rare that, when Sellers joined the American army in the fall of 1776, he was soon discharged by a special resolution of the Continental Congress, which sent him home to create the molds that were so desperately needed to make the paper used for powder wrappers and written orders during the Revolutionary War. Between 1776 and 1820, he supplied the molds for hundreds of American papermakers.
—Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, Georgia Institute of Technology
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Wood Fiber Replaces Rags as the Raw Material for Paper Making

By 1810, there were about 185 paper mills in the United States. Rags were becoming scarce and more expensive, and papermakers experimented with different materials and methods. In the 1840’s, it became possible to use wood fiber – a more plentiful and less expensive resource. Chemical processes such as bleaching and methods to improve the way paper was coated for better printing created new opportunities. The first newspaper made from wood fibers was the Boston Weekly Journal, published on January 14, 1863, and before long the new processes became the global standard.

Mechanization and Automation Come to Paper Making

Producing one sheet at a time could not meet the demand for paper. Output was measured in sheets per hour. In about 1804, mechanization came to paper manufacturing with the development of the Fourdrinier machine which is comprised of four sections: forming, wet press, dryer and calendar. While today’s paper making machines still use the same basic process, they are highly sophisticated, and can produce hundreds or thousands of tons of paper each day. Aided by computer technology, these machines can create paper to meet the exacting requirements of different customers and applications.

Paper Has to Stand up to Rigorous Standards

Paper has to be manufactured according to exacting standards in order for printers and the Postal Service to process it efficiently without damage. Paper must accept many different applications, from pencil and fountain pen, to heat-fused toner, lasers and ink jet printers. It must be able to accept special inks, varnishes and special finishes that help make a printed piece noticeable to the reader. Paper must be durable enough to withstand multiple handlings, in different conditions, by many people and different machines. Papermaking has also developed processes to protect security, privacy, and resist counterfeiting. Protecting the Environment is a Critical Responsibility for the Industry

One-third of the United States is forested – about 751 million acres. Today, the United States has 20 percent more trees than it did on the first Earth Day.

More than half of the forests are privately owned, and supply 91 percent of the wood harvested in the country. More than 1.5 billion trees are planted every year by the industry. Almost 40 percent of the raw material for paper is recycled, and another 10 percent comes from wood waste generated by lumber operations.

The industry has developed widely-used programs to help ensure that the processes used in forestry and paper manufacturing are environmentally friendly. The industry’s future depends on the ability to maintain and improve its forest resources, reduce waste, and operate efficiently.