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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

THE PIONEER PAPER MACHINE

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Of all the industries we have in East Texas, few have the history and public appreciation as a paper mill at Lufkin.

This year, the mill -- owned today by Abitibi-Consolidated -- marked the anniversary of the startup of a paper machine which gave Texas newspapers their first home-grown source of newsprint. As part of a $230 million renovation, the 60-year-old No. 1 paper machine is being replaced by a newer, modern paper machine. In 1940, the Lufkin mill and its first paper machine became the genesis for the South's papermaking industry, and ended the depression for a cluster of counties in deep East Texas.

Keltys lumberman Ernest Kurth had been trying to build a paper mill in East Texas since the 1920s, but was unable to generate sufficient support when the depression settled over the region In 1936, he met Georgia chemist Charles Holmes Herty at a Beaumont agricultural conference where Herty was promoting his concept of making newsprint from southern pine trees. The pine fiber had long been considered unsuitable for paper because the pine rosin gummed up the papermaking machinery.

In his Georgia laboratory, Herty had developed a practical way of neutralizing the rosin, largely by using alum in the papermaking process. He also made several successful trial runs on a paper machine in Canada. Intrigued by Herty's efforts, Kurth sold the idea of building a pioneer paper mill to Texas newspaper publishers dependent on foreign sources for their newspapers and East Texas timberland owners anxious to sell their pulpwood. Hundreds of deep East Texas families also invested their money in Kurth's project.

On January 14, 1939, ground was broken for Southland Paper Mills, Inc. in a cotton field east of Lufkin and a year later No. 1 made the South's first southern pine newsprint.

It was a rocky beginning, however. Jim Moynihan, a Lufkin teenager who was employed at the mill in 1940 as a tester, recalled: "Day after day, I spent six hours scraping pine pitch off the press roll (of No. 1)."

In a decade or two, dozens of additional paper mills, many of them using the Herty process, sprouted across the South and shaped an industry that gave the region some of its greatest economic growth. Southland itself added six other paper machines, three at Lufkin and three at Sheldon, between 1940 and 1976.

The pioneer Lufkin mill remains a major economic contributor in East Texas with more than $150 million spent annually on payrolls, wood fiber, energy, and other purchases.

The mill is also intertwined with the lives of hundreds of deep East Texas families. Many of the mill's employees today are the children and grandchildren of the original employees who started the mill in 1940. However, Charles Holmes Herty, who dreamed of a newsprint industry in the South, failed to see his dream come true. He died of heart failure a year and a half before No. 1 made its first paper.

The contributions of Herty, Kurth and No. 1 won't be lost in history. The Texas Forestry Museum in Lufkin is building a special exhibit room to tell the Southland story.


All Things Historical November 5-11, 2000
Published by permission
(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical Association, is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore.)
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