The paper industry began in Wisconsin in 1848 and continues to have a major impact on the economy in the Fox Cities. Currently, there are 24 paper and pulp mills along the Fox River. These mills currently produce millions of tons of paper products every year and employ 12,497 people.
Here’s a fascinating history of the paper industry in the Fox Cities by Cindy Glass of HC Miller Press in Green Bay, WI.
Almost Two Hundred Years of Papermaking
In 1848, just before Wisconsin became an official state, the paper industry began its ascent. The first paper mill in Wisconsin was actually in Milwaukee, but the first paper mill of the Fox Valley opened in Appleton.
By 1860, Wisconsin produced the most paper in the Midwest, and by the 1870s the state was the first to recycle paper.
In 1889, the famous John Kimberly and Charles Clark opened their paper mill along the Fox River in Kimberly, WI.
As the 19th century came to a close, the paper industry was booming. Paper mills had popped up all along the Fox River, and Wisconsin was number one in lumber production.
As the century turned, the U.S. Forest Service created a research lab to study how to conserve Wisconsin’s beautiful forests. Consolidated Papers created the managed timberland model, which means you plant more trees than you cut. In 1944, University of Wisconsin-Madison creates a tree planting machine.
By the 1920s, Kimberly-Clark invented Kleenex, disposable diapers, hospital masks and gowns, and those handy paper towels.
In 1958, the paper industry reached its peak amount of businesses at 81, and 10 years later reaches its peak employment of 21,500 employees.
In 1971, PCBs are banned from use and paper mills discontinue using them. With safer mill practices, there is less damage on the ecosystem. But recovery didn’t begin immediately. It would take decades before PCBs would be gone from the Fox River.
As the 20th century drew to a close, paper industries overseas began to become more prominent and caused strain on the Wisconsin paper industry.
By 2009, China became the world’s largest paper producer. In that same year, the Fox River started a $1 billion project to remove PCBs from the river and is estimated to be complete by 2017.
Due to the Internet, eBooks, personal computers, and smartphones, the paper industry has shrunk. However, books, newspapers, magazines, and just paper itself is still important and has a long way to go.
Source: JSOnline The Wisconsin Story