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European Themeroute | Paper

It all began in China. Comparatively early, the Chinese empire started to build up a large bureaucracy. This was probably why in the 2nd century BC the process of papermaking was invented - a process which basically remained in use up to the present day. Although raw materials have changed and production ... more

Icon: PaperEuropean Theme Route Paper

It all began in China. Comparatively early, the Chinese empire started to build up a large bureaucracy. This was probably why in the 2nd century BC the process of papermaking was invented - a process which basically remained in use up to the present day. Although raw materials have changed and production has been automatated, the three core steps are still the same. Basically, paper is made of a solution of fibres set up in a vat. The Chinese presumably used a mixture of tree bark, hemp and rags, which were beaten into a fibrous pulp and diluted with water. Then, in the first step, a craftsman dipped a screen the size of a sheet of paper into the vat and with it pulled out a portion of pulp. He handed the screen over to a colleague who in an elegant rolling motion dumped the dripping mat of fibres flat onto a mat. After a fair number of sheets had been assembled, a third craftsman gently pressed the remaining water out of the stack. The still damp sheets finally were dried, in older times usually by hanging them up on a clothes line.

The Chinese kept the art of papermaking secret for a long time, but around 750 AD an Arab army captured Chinese soldiers in Samarkand who finally revealed the technique. With minor changes, the Arabs quickly adapted it. They used hemp and flax as raw materials, since they had abundant access to them. Furthermore, they treated the surface of the paper with a glue made of starch, which made writing on it easier. The material spread rapidly through the expanding Arabian empires, providing a basis for scholarship and the arts of poetry and calligraphy, which flourished in the muslim world.

Since the Arabs manufactured paper in their european possessions, too, Europe learnt papermaking through them. It seems that european paper production started in Palermo and Valencia in the 12th century. After the muslim emirates north of the Mediterranean Sea fell into christian hands again, european scholars, magistrates and merchants quickly discovered the advantages of the new writing material over the parchment they had been used to. Papermaking was taken up quickly, based on a pulp made from rags of cotton and linen now, and with various technical advancements. In Fabbiano in Italy around 1250, a papermill started manufacturing pulp on a stamping unit equipped with metal-clad hammers and powered by a waterwheel. For surface sizing italian craftsmen used gelatine made of horns, hooves and animal skins, which efficiently prevented the ink from running. Moreover, since the technique of drawing long, even copper wire had been invented, the screens used to lift pulp out of the vat were manufactured of copper wire now. At the same time the watermark was introduced: when a length of wire, bent into a desired form, was sewn onto the surface of the screen, it left a mark on every sheet of paper.

Diffusion of the new material across the continent progressed slowly. During the 14th century paper found its way into the chancelleries, courts and cloisters of Europe. Apparently, the first european papermill was set up in the french town Troyes by 1338. Nürnberg in southern Germany followed by 1390, Marly in Switzerland by 1411 and Hertfordshire by 1494 – a region which was to boom with papermills during the industrialisation. As the ideas of Renaissance thinking spread, the use of paper increased, because in banks and on markets, in schools and courts of law writing became more important now.

The picture drastically changed when Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in 1455. Now that books and pamphlets could be distributed in numbers unheard of before, a virtually insatiable demand for paper arose. In this process, Italy lost its leading position in papermaking to the North of France, but in the 17th century, when protestant papermakers were expelled from there, Holland took over. There, around 1680, originated an important technical innovation, termed "Hollander beater", which replaced the stamping mills: basically it is a trough with a rotating beater wheel, which is fitted with a number of blades to chop the cotton or linen rags into a fibrous pulp. The new device was so efficient that all the small papermills who could not afford quickly it went out of business.

The crucial invention though took place at the beginning of the industrialisation: the first machine which did not produce single sheets, but a continuous web of fibres, was developed by the Frenchman Nicolas Louis Robert in 1798. He constructed a long flexible screen of wire mesh which, powered by a hand crank, rotated continuously, not unlike a conveyor belt. While it rotated, pulp was shovelled onto it automatically by a paddle. The only drawback of the device was that every 12-15 metres the still damp fibrous web had to be cut off by hand to prevent it from sticking together. With slight alterations, the machine went into commercial use in England thanks to financial backing by Henry Fourdrinier, a stationer of London, and is therefore, rather unfairly, known as "Fourdrinier machine". However, it took a couple of years more to bring it to perfection. By 1829 engineers from the sophisticated British mechanical industries had automated the entire process: they added a number of rolls to the system which were heated by steam. When the web of fibres passed through them, it dried so effectively that it could be rolled up immediately. New paper mills, powered by steam engines, now sprang up all over Europe.

With more than sufficient production capacity available, another problem began to be felt: a lack of raw materials. After endlessly experimenting with straw, tree bark and thistles, in 1843 the German inventor Friedrich Gottlob Keller reached a breakthrough. He managed to grind down pieces of wood to extremely fine fibres, termed "groundwood", which could be used to make paper with only a small amount of rags added. Paper containing wood however after a short time begins to yellow and it breaks quite easily. This is due to lignin, a natural ingredient in wood, which can be extracted from the raw material by cooking it. The American chemist Benjamin Chew Tilghman was the first to acquire various patents for cooking wood fibres in a sulphite dissolution in the 1860s. The sulphite process yields almost pure cellulose fibres, a raw material of high quality which makes for very fine white paper, even if it is comparatively expensive to produce.

This invention initiated paper production on a large industrial scale. Factories were moved to areas where wood was abundant, especially the forest regions of Sweden and Finland. But the chemistry of the process created new problems. Although cellulose already provided a high degree of whiteness in the paper, the producers additionally began to bleach it, using chloride, a chemical of extremely hazardous properties. Only since the end of the 20th century has its use in papermaking slowly decreased. Another serious issue has hardly been noticed by the public. Since the middle of the 19th century companies tried to reduce costs by eliminating an external step in the production process: the final surface sizing with starch. Instead they already put the starch in the vat with the pulp, but because the fibres did not absorb it sufficiently, they had to add aluminum sulphate - and this over time transforms itself into sulfuric acid, a highly aggressive compound which slowly destroys the paper from the inside out. Therefore, almost all the books, newspapers and documents printed between 1840 and 1980 are not aging resistant. They need an expensive de-acidification and restoration if they are to be preserved for future generations.

Zwönitz | Germany
The paper mill in the part of the town called Niederzwönitz was first mentioned in 1568 and rebuilt in the 19th century during the course of industrialization. Until then, paper workers had used pulped rags to make “laid paper” by hand. Rags, along with waste products from cotton and rope factories, ...

Niederzwönitz Paper Mill
Köhlerweg 1
08297 Zwönitz, Germany

Amalfi | Italy
Amalfi is an ancient town of arcaded houses situated on one of Europe’s most beautiful coastlines. In the early middle ages its traders had influence in most parts of the Mediterranean, and it was one of the first places in Europe where the art of papermaking was practised. The town’s main ...

Paper Museum
La Fondazione Museo Della Carta
Via delle Cartiere
Amalfi, Italy

Fabriano, a town of about 30,000 inhabitants on the slopes of the Apennines, 55 kim from the Adriatic coast at Ancona, has long been associated with the manufacture of paper. Its guild (or corporation) of papermakers was formally established in 1326. The industry was developed by Pietro Miliani ...

Museum of paper and watermarks
Museo Della Carta E Della Filigrani
Largo Fratelli Spacca 2
60044 Fabriano, Italy

Genova | Italy
Paper has been made in the Genoa region since 1424. The local product was particularly prized because it was resistant to insects, and it was used in many government and royal chancelleries across Europe. A museum was inaugurated in 1997 in one of the region’s oldest water-powered paper mills. The ...

Mele’s Paper Museum
Musea della Carta di Mele
Via Acquasanta 251
16158 Genova, Italy

Toscolano Maderno is a town and resort on the west shore of Lake Garda at the point where the River Toscolano, sometimes called the Torrento Toscolano, enters the lake. The first evidence of papermaking in the area is from the late fourteenth century, and many mills subsequently took their power ...

Centro di Eccellenza Polo cartario di Maina Inferiore
Fondazione Valle delle Cartier
Via Valle delle Cartiere
25088 Toscolano Maderno, Italy

The Netherlands Open Air Museum is one of several national museums inspired by the example of Skansen in Stockholm, that were established in north European countries in the decades before the First World War. It was founded in 1912, and became a state responsibility in 1941. It was a haven for many ...

The Netherlands Open Air National Heritage Museum
Schelmseweg 89
6316 SJ Arnhem, Netherlands

Loenen | Netherlands
Paper has been made at the Middle Mill at Leonen, south of Apeldoorn, since 1622. Papermaking prospered in the heathlands of the Veluwe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in 1740 it was estimated that there were 168 paper mills in the region. Many, like that at Leonen, were worked by ...

Middle Mill Paper Factory
Papier fabriek de Middelste Molen
Kanaal Zuid 497
7371 Loenen, Netherlands

Dusniki-Zdroj (Bad Reinerz) is a spa resort in the Sudenten Mountains, where the clear water of the River Bystrzyca was well-suited for paper-making. The paper mill built in 1605 has now been working for more than 400 years, although since 1968 it has operated as a museum.Some of the 17th and 18th ...

The Museum of Papermaking at Duszniki Zdrój
Muzeum Papiernictwa Duszniki Zdroj
ul. Kłodzka 42
57-340 Duszniki Zdrój, Poland

Portugal’s first museum of the paper industry is in the community of Santa Maria da Feira, south of Oporto. People in the region were engaged in the making of paper from the early eighteenth century, but the last mills stopped working before the end of the twentieth century. The museum is owned by ...

Museum of the Papermaking region of Santa Maria
Museu do Papel Terras de Santa Maria
Rua de Rio Maior 338
45-309 Pacos de Brandao, Portugal

Fengersfors | Sweden
The ironworks at Fengersfors in the Dalsland region of Västra Götland, 180 km north of Göteborg and 95 km south-west of Karlstad, was founded in the late eighteenth-century and worked until 1884. A large paper mill was established on the site in the early twentieth century and operated until 1978. ...

Fengersfors Bruk
Fabriksvägen 2
66295 Fengersfors, Sweden

Frövifors bruk, 30 km north of Örebro, is the site of a large board mill completed in 1981 alongside a pulp and paper mill which opened some 90 years earlier. The commissioning of the new plant was an appropriate time to preserve the old one, something which had been foreseen in surveys of historic ...

Frövifors Paper Mill Museum
Frövifors Pappersbrukmuseum
71880 Frövi, Sweden

Tumba | Sweden
The Rikbank, established in 1668, was one of Europe’s first central banks. In the 1750s the bank decided to establish a mill for printing banknote paper at Tumba, 18 km south-west of Stockholm. In 1759 Johan and Erasmus Muller arrived at the mill bringing the latest technology from the Netherlands, ...

Tumba Papermill Museum
Tumba Bruksmuseum
Sven Palmes Väg 2
Tumba, Sweden

The Galliciani mill in Basle was converted to make paper in 1453, continued to do so until 1955, and was adapted as a museum in the 1970s. Its displays provide a comprehensive picture of the development of paper making and printing. There is a workshop showing how paper was made by hand in the 18th ...

Basel Paper Mill and Swiss Museum of Paper, Writing and Printing
St Alban-Tal 35-37
4052 Basel, Switzerland

Izmit | Turkey
Construction of the Seka (the word is a combination of the Turkish words for paper and cellulose) Paper Mill in north-west Anatolia began in 1934 and it was widely seen as a symbol of the industrialisation of Turkey under Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). The company was privatised in 1997 and production ...

Seka Paper Mill
Seka Kağit Müzesi
Kozluk Mahallasi Mehmet Ali Kağitçi Sokak 77
Izmit, Turkey

Hemel Hempstead | United Kingdom
The Paper Trail Project is a unique new industrial exploration centre. Based at the two mills that pioneered paper’s industrial revolution, the project brings together the past of an industry that helped shape the modern world, allows visitors to experience the present of commercial recycled ...

The Paper Trail
Apsley Mill
HP3 9RL Hemel Hempstead, United Kingdom

Milnthorpe | United Kingdom
Beetham is a small village on the southern border of Cumbria near to the border with Lancashire. It stands on the River Bela on which there have been water mills for at least 900 years. Heron Mill, known by that name since the seventeenth century, had ceased to grind flour by 1927. The manufacture ...

Heron Corn Mill and Papermuseum
Mill Lane Beetham
LA7 7PQ Milnthorpe, United Kingdom

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