International Paper Company 1898-2002
The International Paper Company was formed in 1898 from the purchase of seventeen pulp and paper companies that comprised twenty mills located in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. The Hudson River Mill, which was widely regarded as the largest pulp and paper mill in the Unites States in the 1890s, became International Paper’s flagship mill and the site of its principal office which was built in Corinth in 1905. The building was designed serve as the location for meetings of the Company’s Directors and as the the site of the annual stockholder’s meeting that was held in August. The building, which was gifted to the Town of Corinth by International Paper in 2012, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building will become the home of the Hudson River Mill Museum.
Two generations of Corinthians had developed a strong paper making tradition by the time International Paper was organized in 1898. This pride in work fostered a strong local labor movement with Corinth paper workers becoming members of the Corinth Allied Trades in the 1890s and then playing a leading role in the International Brotherhood of Paper Makers (IBPM) and the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulfite Workers (IBPSPMW) which were organized in the early years of the 20th century. A Corinth paper maker, Jeremiah Carey, rose to the Presidency of the IBPM in 1905, and John Connolly of Corinth was an IBPSPMW officer. The strong labor movement in Corinth resulted in a walkout by paper workers at the Hudson River Mill in 1910 that resulted in a strike that soon spread across the Northeast and led to a decisive settlement with International Paper. The commitment to the principle of organized labor among Corinth paper workers also contributed to the response of its IBPM and IBPSPMW locals during the 1921 Paper Strike. As the strike continued for five years, Corinth was rocked by violence and political turmoil through 1924. The unions in the industry, which were nearly destroyed by the strike, did not recover until the late 1930s. The impact was felt most by the average paper worker who did not return to his 1921 hourly wage rate until 1937.
The success of the Hudson River Mill from from its inception in 1869 had been dependent on constant technological innovation. In the International Paper Company era the mill began to generate more electricity from Palmer Falls to power a new ground wood mill, and additional steam-powered paper machines were installed. In 1910 a proprietary process was developed to recover spent liquor from the mill’s five sulfite digesters and convert it into a salable adhesive product called “binderene.” A few years earlier a New York State report indicated that the Hudson at Palmer Falls was being polluted by the sulfite liquor that was being discharged into the River. The great flood of 1913 that wiped out the mills’ crib dam led to the construction of a massive concrete dam which increased the available head at the Mill. By 1920 the Hudson River Mill was producing about 550 tons of pulp and newsprint each day, the greatest daily production of all of International Paper’s thirty-seven mills.
The expansion of the paper mill at Palmer Falls during the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company years had a profound impact on the growth of Corinth which doubled in population between 1870 and 1900, from 1500 to 3104 people. The community’s growth continued in the International Paper Company era with the population growing to just under 3700 by 1920. Most of the growth in Corinth occurred in the Palmer section of the community which had very few buildings before 1869. Commonly referred to as “Corktown” for its sizable Irish population, the eastern portion of Corinth village was quickly built up between 1870 and 1900. Corinth’s new high school built in 1891 was sited on the hill opposite Indian Hollow, a location adjacent to Cedars Park (now Pagenstecher Park) which in the early 20th century was typically considered the dividing line between Corinth village and Palmer. The population of the community near the Hudson River Mill was great enough that in 1907 one of two new elementary schools was built on lower Palmer Avenue, just two blocks from the Mill.
The economics of the paper industry that moved the production of newsprint to Canadian mills in the 1920s forced the Hudson River Mill to shift to specialty paper production. The conversion of the mill was aided by the development of a bleached ground wood process that could produce a high opacity paper needed to handle the color being demanded by modern magazines and mail order catalogs. By 1931 all Hudson River Mill paper machines had been converted from newsprint production to the manufacture of various specialty papers.
The construction of the Conklingville Dam in 1930 that created the Sacandaga Reservoir eliminated the wide, seasonal water level fluctuations of the Hudson River which had deprived paper mills and hydroelectric plants of reliable flows throughout the year. The creation of the Hudson River Regulating District by New York State which provided the authority to the build the Sacandaga Reservoir stimulated further corporate interest in damning more of the Hudson River watershed, In late 1931 International Paper advanced a plan to build a new dam at Palmer Falls, twenty-five feet higher than the one built in 1913. The dam would have created a “mammoth artificial lake extending from Palmer Falls to Lake Luzerne” which would have submerged Curtis Falls and required the demolition of the Curtis Mill. International Paper, which had been preparing the plan for three years, sought initial permissions from the Village of Corinth because it needed to secure flowage rights along the Hudson River Palisades and Indian Hollow. The Corinth Village Board unanimously provided its full cooperation the same evening the plan was proposed by the Company. The dam was never built. No longer needed to augment the Hudson River Mill’s pulp supply, the Curtis Mill was converted to hydroelectric production with the installation of 10-1000 watt electric generators.
The Hudson River Mill was widely regarded as having pioneered the development of coated papers in 1941 with the installation of a single off-machine coater. In the 1947 it became the first mill to use on on-machine coater on the No. 2 machine. Machine No. 3 and No. 4 were both converted to on-machine coating by 1956. In 1958 No. 11 machine was installed. The full conversion of the mill to on-machine coated papers which were used by dozens of national magazines, marked the beginning of a very profitable period for International Paper and resulted in nearly four decades of general prosperity for Hudson River Mill workers and the Corinth Community.
It is difficult for anyone who did not live in Corinth at some time from the 1940s through the 1970s to understand just how prosperous the community was. During the 1960s there were at least three car dealerships, three large grocery stores, seven mom-and-pop “corner” stores, and seven restaurants and bars. Most Corinth citizens, even if they did not have a family member who worked in the Mill, owed their livelihoods to the local economy that the Mill’s weekly payroll generated. It would not be an understatement to say that many Corinthians believed in those years that their personal fates and that of their family was inextricably tied to the success of International Paper.
In the 1958 the No. 11 machine was built by the Beloit Corporation. The new building that was built to house No. 11 first required the demolition of the towered administrative building constructed by Hudson River Pulp and Paper in 1888. Producing a 208-inch roll at 2300 feet a minute, No. 11 was considered the state-of-the-art at the time. With the Mill’s four principal paper machines producing coated papers, its 1450 employees produced an average of 540 tons of paper per day by the late 1950s.
By the early 1960s most of the paper machines at the Hudson River Mill had been converted to produce a paper coated on both sides. In 1963 an electric-powered ground wood mill was built, and in the 1965 the mill’s sulfite plant - which had provided a pungent order to the Palmer section of Corinth since the 1890s - was discontinued. The woodyard was modernized and a new wood room was built to remove bark from pulp wood. The piles of wood in the Mill yard were capable of running the mill for 40 days without resupply.
By the 1970’s the mill’s five electrically driven grinders had an annual production of 80,000 tons of wood pulp. The Nos. 3, 4 and 11 machines produced 185,000 ton of machine coated papers annually, the No. 2 machine produced uncoated paper, and the No. 10 machine manufactured wrapper and core paper. Technological innovations during the previous ten years led to a reduction in full time employees to just under 900 in 1975, from a high of 1700 in the mid-1960s when the Hudson River Mill was regarded as the largest employer north of Albany.
The relationship between International Paper, the Hudson River Mill and the Corinth community underwent significant change in the 1970s. George Holland, who had been editor of the EMBA News since the 1940s, understood pulp and paper production and was committed to making the monthly publication a reflection of work at the mill and life within the Corinth community. During most of his editorship, the EMBA News was published monthly and consisted of as many as sixteen, fully illustrated pages. When Holland retired and new editor took over the News in 1976, it was reduced to a bi-monthly publication and the circulation declined from 3,100 to 2,000. By the end of 1976 the EMBA News became the Hudson River Report, no longer carring the EMBA name. While the Report contained some news about Mill developments, most issues focused on safety, retirements and featured articles about IP corporate news. The new bi-monthly publication had very little to offer about the inner workings of the Hudson River Mill or the Corinth community. The Report had become a Company publication.
Another measure of the changing corporate-community relationship came when International Paper sued both the Village of Corinth and the Town of Corinth in 1973 seeking a lower assessment of the Hudson River and Curtis Mills from their $1,262,000 valuation in order to secure a reduction in property taxes. With a settlement of the lawsuit reached in 1975, the both the Town and Village agreed to reduce the valuation of the properties which entitled International Paper to a refund of $257,000 for the years 1973-1975. The settlement included the Company’s agreement to forego the refund in exchange for the lowered property valuation going forward.
The change in the traditional relationship between International Paper Company and Corinth that became evident during the 1970s was in some measure a reflection of the transformation of the Company itself. J. Stanford Smith came from General Electric to International Paper and became the Chairman and Chief Executive Office of IP in 1974. Smith was first person in the history of International Paper to rise to that leadership position without any prior experience in the paper industry. Within two years of Smith’s arrival at International Paper, Judson Hannigan resigned the Presidency of the Company over his differences with Smith. Hannigan, who had begun his career at the Hudson River Mill in 1948 and became the Mill’s manager in 1961, had been a beloved member of the Corinth community. Change at the corporate level also found expression in the day-to-day operations at the Hudson River Mill which was often reflected anecdotally by the men and women who worked there.
Several different editors published the News in the 1980s and for a short time “EMBA” was returned to the masthead with the title Hudson River EMBA Review. By then the circulation was down to 1,000. By the late 1990s, when the title was again changed to The River’s View, the publication bore little resemblance to the richly illustrated monthly that was so highly valued by Hudson River Mill Workers and the Corinth community during the years that George Holland was its editor. Changes that were made to the News during the latter decades of the 20th century, and the general decline of the Hudson River Mill in its importance to International Paper and in its role as a driver of Corinth economic life, will be explored as this page is continued.