1950s Progressive Production Of Wood Pulp And Paper


by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr._DSC2528
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

Berlin, New Hampshire, in the state’s north country, has been described as the city that trees built because it had its beginnings as a sawmill and was built around the lumber business. In the year 1956 the Brown Company of Berlin was New England’s largest producer of pulp, paper and paper products and announced in the spring of said year that it was expanding its hardwood purchasing program. This was good news for owners of woodlands because it meant that they would have a market for tree species such as oak, maples, birches and beech as well as the softwood trees like pine and spruce, though the change to hardwood was probably because of the decreasing supply of softwood trees. The Brown Company spokesman indicated that this could help in woodlot management because the owners could profit by thinning their trees with the increasing demand for hardwood pulp.
Probably many people do not know that paper made from wood is a process that has been around for less than 200 years. Before wood, used rags were a main source of paper-making material, but in 1838 two men, not in contact with each other, were influenced by the idea of making paper out of trees. Friedrich Keller in Germany started thinking about ways to make the idea a reality and in 1845 filed for a patent for a process that made wood pulp into paper. A year earlier, in 1844, the experiments of a Canadian, Charles Fenerty, resulted in successfully processing wood into paper.

A crane using a sling to unload a truck at the Brown Company in Berlin.

A hundred and twelve years later the Brown Company in the city that trees built was promising good times for the people of northern New England as it prepared to increase pulpwood production to supply the demand for increased paper and paper products with new equipment .

A bulldozer pushing softwood logs into the Upper Androscoggin River to be floated downstream to the company’s sawmills.

Brud Warren, who was the Public Relations Manager for the Brown Company, emphasized that new equipment for lumbermen and processing plants made their work easier and more efficient with greater production. He wrote: “This is truly the machine age in the woods. Trucks, tractors, cranes, and chain saws are getting out the wood for the pulp and paper mills faster and more efficiently.” Trucks had by then become more important as a means of transporting logs to the pulp mills or saw mills. This was particularly important with the increased demand for hardwood logs because they, unlike the softwoods, could not be floated down the rivers without being specially treated. It was reported that with the use of cranes a truck could be loaded in about a quarter of an hour instead of an hour and a half, making the use of trucks a more economical practice, so scores of trucks were put to use each day hauling logs to the pulp and saw mills in Berlin and Gorham.
The emphasis of the Brown Company in the mid 1950’s was upon modernization and mechanization. A new type of debarker was apparently more efficient, leaving more of the debarked pieces of wood available for the making of pulp, thus reducing waste. The Brown Company had started its expansion program in the 1940’s and a main component of the 50’s phase of the program was the building of a “ new kraft pulp bleachery plant.” The company’s president, A. E. Harold Fair, called the new plant “a most important milestone in the long-range development and expansion plan of the company.” Before the new plant was built the company had to depend upon other sources for its bleached pulp as it could previously produce only unbleached pulp. Many years of research went into the planning of the new bleaching plant to determine the process and the agents to be used at the plant. The plant was expected to produce 150 tons of pulp daily which would be transported by a two mile long pipeline to the paper machines at Cascade Mill. The mayor of Berlin in 1956, Aime Tondreau, said the new bleach building was “a most important step forward in the industrial progress of Northern New Hampshire.” Another project by the company, already competed in 1956, was the installation of a two million dollar steam generating boiler, anticipated to cut costs of generating steam by at least 40 per cent.

Brown Company’s kraft pulp bleachery plant while under construction which was part of a $17,000,000 improvement program.

As a child, when traveling with my parents in northern New Hampshire, I discovered that one could not escape the odor coming from the city of Berlin before they arrived there. I knew the odor, which seemed comparable to that of rotten eggs, had something to do with the paper mills in the area and was caused by the use of some type of sulfur. It apparently was specifically related to the processing of the wood pulp which was used to make paper and other products. The Brown Company manufactured Nibroc paper towels and other paper products. Nibroc was the last name of the man who developed the towels (William Corbin spelled backwards). The wood pulp also was made into a cellulose pipe impregnated with pitch called Bermico pipe which was used for sewers, drainage, conduit, and irrigation. Another pulp product was Onco, which had many uses including being a component of shoe insoles, handbags, wallets, belts, caps, and imitation leathers. Soca-Floc also was used in a number of products.
Though not going by the name Brown Company until 1917, the company was founded by a group of men from Portland, Maine in 1852 with one of the men involved being John B. Brown. Josiah Little and Nathan and Hezekiah Winslow were also founders and the company was called H. Winslow and Company and later the Berlin Mills Company.
The Brown Company had its share of difficult times, but under one name or another the establishment provided employment for many people in New Hampshire’s north country for about 150 years. Gulf and Western reportedly bought the company in 1968 and the James River Corporation Company in the 1980’s, followed by others, but the permanent closing came in 2006. But back in 1956 ambitious projects were in the works and the company’s spokesman said that, besides the projects mentioned in this article, “…many other projects, including more major ones, are in the works.”