Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company 1869-1898
Hudson River Pulp and Paper had its origins in Curtisville, Massachusetts where in 1867 brother’s Albrecht and Rudolf Pagenstecher, along with cousin Alberto, started a company that produced paper pulp from wood using a mechanical grinder designed by Heinrich Voelter and built in Germany. At the time there were over twenty paper manufacturers in the region. Berkshire paper makers, who had been using cotton for pulp, were slow to embrace the use of wood pulp to make paper, but soon the local supply of popular – the first wood used for pulp – began to decline in the region.
By late 1868 Albrecht Pagenstecher was working to secure $60,000 in financing (about $1,000,000 in 2019 dollars) for a new pulp company to be located in the southern Adirondacks that could take advantage of the region’s abundant wood supplies, the powerful flow of the Hudson River, and the railroad that was under construction from Saratoga to North Creek. In January 1869 the Hudson River Pulp Company was organized. Building commenced in late 1868 for a two-grinder pulp mill on Daley Creek in Lake Luzerne and while the foundations of an eighteen-grinder mill at Palmer Falls on the Hudson at Corinth were begun in spring, 1869.
The mill at Palmer Falls began operations in September 1869 using pulp grinders built in the Berkshires and with the labor of forty German machine operators. When the Company encountered difficulty in finding paper makers who would use its wood pulp, it decided in 1870 to install its own paper machine, likely becoming the first American corporation to manufacture both wood pulp and paper at the same site.
The Company overcame several floods and fires in the 1870s to quickly expand to meet the growing demand for wood pulp-based newsprint. After building a substantial crib dam to increase its use of the Hudson, wood grinders were added and additional paper machines were installed. In 1880 the phrase “and Paper” was legally inserted into its corporate name. By then about 200 men operated two pulp mills and ran three paper machines at Palmer Falls.
The 1880s was a period of dramatic growth for the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company that was directed by the management of Warren Curtis who arrived in Corinth in 1871. An engineer, Curtis secured patents in the 1880s for a new wood grinder - then called “the Curtis grinder” - and a high-speed fourdrinier paper machine. The Curtis-designed paper machine, built by Pusey and Jones in 1887, was then considered the largest in the world. Curtis quickly settled into the community, marrying a local woman, Margaret “Maggie” Parmenter in 1875. Together they over came the tremendous emotional loss of the death of the triplets born to them in 1880 and went on to have five more children who were each raised in Corinth. Warren and Maggie became benevolent community members. When the Baptist church burned down in 1891, they contributed the difference between the insurance policy coverage on the old church and the cost of building a new one. They also paid for the construction of a parsonage next door to the new church. The Warren and Maggie also sought to provide cultural uplift to Corinth by securing the services of R. Newton Breeze of Saratoga Springs to design the new church, the same recognized architect who had built their home across the street in 1892.
Warren Curtis was a 19th century industrialist who possessed civic virtues not uncommon in his age. It was Curtis’s leadership that resulted in the incorporation of Corinth Village in 1888 to address the desire for graded streets, side walks, a community sewage system and eventually street lighting that the Town of Corinth was unwilling to provide. The incorporation was planned so that a good portion of Village improvements made between 1888 and 1898 were paid for by property taxes assessed on the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company. Warren Curtis also sponsored the Warren Curtis Hose Company, one of two fire departments in town, and served as the first Village President and chaired the local school board. In 1892 he was drafted by the Democratic Party to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress.
One event in particular suggests how Curtis employed his benevolent nature in order to deal with a tragedy of his own making. When a group of logs jammed in the rocks above Palmer Falls in November 1879, Curtis ordered four men out along a narrow plank to to a rock above the falls in order to free the jam. When the logs gave way, all four men were swept over the falls. Ebenezer Boyce, age 50, and A.M Young, age 36, were both killed.
Curtis was reported to have been in “deep mental distress” as a result of the accident. While an inquest held after the accident cleared Warren Curtis of any wrong doing, Curtis nonetheless pledged to help Boyce’s sons - Willard, Fred, Albert and Herbert - when they came of age and provided them with supervised training at the mill. Three of the sons excelled in the paper industry, with Willard becoming manager of the woodworm and both Fred and Albert rising to machine tenders, typically the highest paid hourly position in a paper mill. By 1900, all three of Boyce’s sons had moved out of Corinth to become superintendents of paper mills in the upper Midwest, effectively rising to the highest compensated position in the industry. Fred Boyce returned to Corinth as an old man in 1951 to reminisce with some of his former Center Street neighbors.
Warren’s Curtis’s benevolent character could do little to alter the typical experience of 19th century industrial workers. When Fred Boyce began work at the mill around 1885, he earned 50 cents per day. In the 1890s, when Hudson River Pulp and Paper had over 500 employees, a day-worker worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. A typical week for someone who worked either in either pulp or paper production was 68-72 hours, in 11 and 13 hour shifts. In this era a common laborer earned but 15 cents per hour.
Low wages and often unsafe working conditions were the norm in the 19th century. The loss of fingers was common for men working on the paper machines and just about every place in the mill where motors, gears and pulleys were in operation, most often without the safety guards that are common today. The wood yard could be a dangerous place as well. In 1893 Charles Murray was killed when a log jumped from a slide and struck him in the head. In 1880 Charles Gooch was severely injured when a large pile of spruce logs collapsed and crashed through the wall of a building where he was working. Not until 1912 did New York began to inspect the State’s factories and cite companies for their unsafe working conditions.
The 1880s was a period of rapid growth for the company that was made possible by making fuller use of the power of Palmer Falls. In 1881 a new crib dam first increased the mill’s useable head to 50 feet, then in 1883 a tail race was added, increasing the total head to 84 feet which resulted in the production of 25,000 horse power from the Hudson River. By 1887, when Curtis’s paper machine was installed at the Mill by Pusey and Jones, the enlarged dam was able to power 28 wood grinders whose production of 35 tons of pulp daily permitted yet more expansion. In 1888 a new administrative building and machine room were built, the latter housing five new paper machines, bringing to nine the total number of machines running at the Mill. A rail line was built into the mill yard from the main stem two miles away the same year.
Hudson River Pulp and Paper continued its growth in the 1890s with the development of a five-digester sulfite pulp mill that dramatically increased its production of wood pulp without the need to draw additional power from the Hudson. With the sulfite process, pulp wood is first ground into chips and then “cooked” in a large digester with a sulphuric acid solution that separates the wood’s lignin and the fiber. Although a more expensive process than mechanical pulping, paper made from sulfite pulp is stronger. When the Mill’s sulfite mill was completed, it was consuming over 6,000,000 board feet of pulp wood yearly, the most of any mill in New York State. In the 1894 the Mill produced 105 tons of ground wood and 75 ton of newsprint daily. The New England Magazine claimed in 1898 that the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company mill was the largest in the world.
In 1898 Hudson River Pulp and Paper became one of nineteen paper companies that were combined through a capital investment of $45,000,000 to create the International Paper Company, what was then the largest company ever incorporated in New York State. Corinth was named the location of the Company’s the main office with its mills located in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. Hudson River Pulp and Paper superintendent, Warren Curtis, became one the largest shareholders and a Director of the Company. International Paper was soon referred to as “The American Paper Trust.”