How Paper Was Made

The following description of the paper-making process is derived from a 1934 booklet The Story of Papermaking: An Industrial Romance which was published by the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company. As such this is intended to provide a general idea of processes as they existed at the height of Kalamazoo’s Paper City era.

The process began with the prepping of the primary raw materials, wood and cotton rag. Wood had to be chipped and cooked while rags, scraps from textile mills and old recycled clothing had to be sorted, cooked, washed, and bleached. These procedures broke down the materials into a pulp, ready to be refashioned into paper.


The beater room at the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, circa 1934.

The next stage was subjecting the pulp to the beaters. Beaters were giant tanks in which the mixture of pulps is combined with water and beat repeatedly to soften and loosen the fibers in the pulp. It was at this stage that the final color of the paper was also determined, with appropriate dyes added to the mixture. For white paper blue dye was added. After the beaters, the softened pulp mixture was subjected to an additional beating process via Jordan machines, which softened and separated the fibers beyond the abilities of the beaters and made the pulp ready for being turned into a sheet of paper.


One of the massive paper machines at the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, circa 1934.

From the beater and Jordan machines the pulp was then fed into the giant paper machines. The paper machines, which were massive two-story affairs that stretched over a city block in length, ran the pulp through rollers and metal mesh. By the time the pulp had reached the end it was in a form that resembled paper. However, it still had to shed a considerable amount of water and must pass through drying cylinders.


Packaged paper awaits shipment to the costomers in this finished product warehouse at the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, circa 1934.

The final steps are dependent upon the final use of the paper. The paper was typically pressed and polished, the degree of which was determined by its grade. Additional steps were required to add rules for note paper, and to cut it to its final size. Regardless of the paper’s end-use, its final stop in the mill would be the finished product warehouses where it would await shipment to the customer.

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