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Early History of Papermaking

Author: Rudolph P. Hommel

( Article orginally published October 1953 by Hobbies )

Papermaking has a venerable history. Perhaps the most important contribution of China to the basic inventions of the world was the one of making paper. It was achieved in the year 105 A.D. and it took just about a thousand years before it was introduced into Europe. China did not give up its secret of manufacture until 751 A.D., when the Arabians conquered Samarkand and took two Chinese prisoners of war who were paperm,akers and taught the art to the Arabians. The spread of the Arabian power to the Mediterranean region carried the invention to Spain and Italy and since the beginning of the fourteenth century we have documentary proof of paper mills in Germany.

It is common knowledge that the first paper mill in America was erected by William Rittenhonzse in 1690 on Papermill Run, a tributary of the Wissahickon Creek, in Roxborough, Pa. William Rittenhouse came from a long line of German papermakers, and was the first to transplant the art to the New World. For twenty gears, or until 1710, this was the only paper mill in America. William DeWees, the son-in-law of William Rittenhouse, built the second paper mill on the Wissahickon in the part of Germantown, Pa., called Crefeld.

It is a matter of pride for Pennsylvanians to realize that papermaking was almost a monopoly in their state to well-nigh the end of the eighteenth century. George Clyaser said in Congress in 1789 that there were 53 paper mills within the range of the Philadelphia market, which produced about 70,000 reams (33,600,000) of various sheets and kinds "which is sold as cheap as can be imported."

Seventeen years later, in 1806, Joseph Scott in his "A Geographical Description of Pennsylvania," records that there were at that time 62 paper mills in the state; 14 of them, (the largest number for any single county), were in Montgomery County. Pennsylvania. The Census of 1810 accounts for 15 paper mills in Montgomery Countv, producing 25,433 reams (12,207,840) yearly.

Papermaking was a lucrative enterprise and Benjamin Franklin aided the spread of it in every way. He wrote in a letter of April 22, 1771, that he had a principal share in establishing the paper manufacture and told the French traveller Brissot de Warville in 1788 that he had established about 18 paper mills. This was no idle boast. One of Franklin's account books, which has been preserved to this day, shows that he sold between the years 1742 and 1749 almost one hundred tons of rags to the paper mills.

Some writers on Colonial papermaking seem to be under the impression that rags were scarce and that local manufacture could not begin to supply the demand for paper. My investigations disprove such a view. Enough paper was produced in Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century that thousands of reams could be exported. In the short suan of five years, from 1759 to 1763, 6,432 reams of paper, the product of Pennsylvania, left the nort of Philadelphia. John Swift, the deputy collector of the Port had to make this report for the customs authorities in England, who jealously watched the mounting self-sufficiency of the Colonies.

Papermaking needs pure water & water power. When all desirable sites in the Wissahickon Valley, Pennsylvania, had been taken up, the papermakers,whose number was steadily augmented by apprentices who had served their term and by immigrant journeymen, cast about for new territory, and one of them went farther up the Schuylkill to Trout Run, the next creek, flowing into it. It is only a small creek, meandering with considerable fall along the old border of Whitemarsh township, where it adjoined the Springfield Manor Corridor. The lower limb of this corridor, about 160 acres of it, had been cut off in 1876 and given to Whitemarsh township. The paper mill area with which our account deals is now wholly in Whitemarsh township and borders no longer on Springfield township. Here were ideal conditions for a new enterprise.

The time was 1746, two hundred years ago, the entrepreneur was Anthony Newhouse, and the site the identical one, where today stands the imposing papermaking plant of W.C. Hamilton & Sons. Now, as then, Trout Run flows through the property. When Mr. Hamilton took over in 1865, the establishment was called the Riverside Paper Mill. The railroad had a station at the mill, called Lafayette. The Hamilton Mill later adopted as a trademark a profile of William Penn in a circle, surrounded by the words Miquon Riverside Mills. This circular device is superimposed upon a feather, the tail & quill of which project obliquely from under it. Miquon was one of the Indian names of William Penn. In deference to the dominating interest of the little sett1ement clustering about the Hamilton Mills the place was called Miquon, when a post office was established in 1921. The old name of Lafayette was not acceptable to the postal authorities in, Washington, as there were some other places with that name.



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