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Papermaking from Wood Pulp Rediscovered & Industrialized (October 26, 1844 – August 1845)


Though Matthias Koops in England produced paper from wood pulp as early as 1801, credit for the discovery of the industrial process for making wood pulp paper is generally given to the German machinist and inventor Friedrich Gottlob Keller, and to the Canadian poet and inventor Charles Fenerty, both of whom appear to have independently announced the discovery of similar processes in 1844.   However, neiter Fenerty nor Keller exploited the process; that was accomplished by the German industrialists, Heinrich Voelter, and Johann Matthäus Voith.

Fenerty began experimenting with wood pulp around 1838. On October 26, 1844 he took a sample of his paper to the leading newspaper in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Acadian Recorder. According to the Wikipedia he wrote the following letter on this piece of wood pulp paper: 

Messrs. English & Blackadar,

Enclosed is a small piece of PAPER, the result of an experiment I have made, in order to ascertain if that useful article might not be manufactured from WOOD. The result has proved that opinion to be correct, for- by the sample which I have sent you, Gentlemen- you will perceive the feasibility of it. The enclosed, which is as firm in its texture as white, and to all appearance as durable as the common wrapping paper made from hemp, cotton, or the ordinary materials of manufacture is ACTUALLY COMPOSED OF SPRUCE WOOD, reduced to a pulp, and subjected to the same treatment as paper is in course of being made, only with this exception, VIZ: my insufficient means of giving it the required pressure. I entertain an opinion that our common forest trees, either hard or soft wood, but more especially the fir, spruce, or poplar, on account of the fibrous quality of their wood, might easily be reduced by a chafing machine, and manufactured into paper of the finest kind. This opinion, Sirs, I think the experiment will justify, and leaving it to be prosecuted further by the scientific, or the curious.

I remain, Gentlemen, your obdt. servant,

CHARLES FENERTY.

The Acadian Recorder Halifax, N.S. Saturday, October 26, 1844

Fenerty seems never to have exploited his process. Keller, on the other hand, sold his process to a paper specialist Heinrich Voelter, and in August, 1845 both Keller and Voelter received a German patent, which reverted entirely to Voelter, and Keller became unemployed.  In 1848 industrialist Johann Matthäus Voith began working with Voelter to develop means of mass producing paper by wood pulp processing, and by 1852 Voelter was selling numerous wood-grinding machines for the papermaking process, and producing wood pulp paper at his mill in Heidenheim. Voith continued to improve the process, and in 1859 he created the first Raffineur, a machine that refined the raw wood pulp and significantly improved the quality of paper products.  Voelter and Voith's business continues today as a division of the German industrial company Voith AG.

"Throughout his life, Keller received no royalties from his invention. In 1870 he received from a number of German paper makers and other associations a small sum of money, which he used to buy a house in Krippen, Germany. Then towards the end of his life, various countries put together a fair sum of money for him, enough for a worry-free retirement, and he also received several awards in recognition of his invention" (Wikipedia article on Friedrich Gottlob Keller, accessed 03-26-2012).