The first mention of a paper mill in South Carolina is found in the correspondence of Benjamin Waring of Columbia in 1806, when he wrote, “I suppose you have heard of my erecting a Papermill.” By 1809 the Waring enterprise was making and shipping printing papers and a lower-grade wrapping paper to various customers, at least partly through the firm of Waring and Hayne in Charleston.
From the first century C.E. until the first decades of the nineteenth century, papermaking technology remained virtually unchanged. Discovered in China, the process began by reducing rags, cotton, and linen to a fine pulp by vigorous beating while suspended in water. A measure of the solution was then brought up on a frame of bronze wire mesh, piece by piece, and drained of excess liquid. In successive steps, more water was extracted by pressing sheets and alternating layers of felt together several times until the individual sheets were finally dry. This technology was later imported to America and was in use until well after the Revolutionary War. It was also the process first utilized for papermaking in the Palmetto State.
The first mention of a paper mill in South Carolina is found in the correspondence of Benjamin Waring of Columbia in 1806, when he wrote, “I suppose you have heard of my erecting a Papermill.” By 1809 the Waring enterprise was making and shipping printing papers and a lower-grade wrapping paper to various customers, at least partly through the firm of Waring and Hayne in Charleston. The fate of Waring’s mill is unclear, but by the 1820s paper was being manufactured in the Columbia area and parts of the upstate. The firm of White and Bicknell was operating a paper plant in Columbia in 1832, by then the only such enterprise in the state, but that year it was destroyed by fire. Other attempts at paper manufacturing during the nineteenth century were uneven, with the best-known example being the Bath paper mill near Graniteville in Edgefield District, which manufactured paper for the Confederacy.
By 1893 James Lide Coker of Hartsville had organized the first company in the state to make wood pulp for paper production on a commercial scale. Soon a paper mill that created paper cones for the miles of yarn produced by the state’s textile industry was in operation. Named the Southern Novelty Company, it later became Sonoco.
The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed the birth of the modern paper industry in the South. Advances in rendering wood fiber into usable pulp on a commercially profitable scale, as well as dwindling supplies of suitable wood in the North, sparked the creation of new paper plants in the South. A new technology, the sulphite process, was developed in 1910, making kraft paper (a strong paper or paperboard made from wood pulp) a viable component of total paper production. Kraft paper would be a specialty of these newer southern mills, used most notably for brown paper bags and corrugated boxes. From 1900 to 1939 the output of paper contributed by southern mills increased from one percent to twenty-one percent of the nationwide production. Inexpensive labor, transportation improvements, a shift to electric and steam power, and improvements in the utilization of southern forest products all contributed to the rise of paper as a southern industry. By the mid-1930s, with the arrival in Charleston County of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (later Westvaco) and of International Paper Company in Georgetown County, the industry had assumed a place of importance in the South Carolina economy. Together these massive facilities (Georgetown had the largest paper mill in the world for years) brought more than $6 million in wages to the state during the worse years of the Great Depression. In addition, wood products from South Carolina were being exported to paper and pulp mills in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.
In 1958 the English paper manufacturer Bowater Corporation commenced production at a new plant in York County, which by 2000 was a leading producer of newsprint and coated and uncoated groundwood papers. In 1984 Union Camp did likewise in Eastover, producing fine white uncoated and unbleached paper. By 2000 the Georgetown mill of International Paper was producing envelope stock; heavyweight Bristol for tags, file folders, and index cards; and pulp for personal needs and other market segments. Westvaco produced paperboard, unbleached kraft paper, food and drink cartons, corrugated cartons, and material for core laminates. Other pulp and paper manufacturers in 2000 included Georgia-Pacific in York and Orangeburg Counties, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation in Florence, and Willamette Industries in Marlboro County.
Coinciding with the rise of pulp and paper in the state, forest management and utilization improved. By the mid 1950s more than half of the tree farms of the nation were found in the South, including 140 in South Carolina. Besides producing paper and pulp, the industries have encouraged a range of related wood-based manufacturing, including box plants, plywood, lumber, and woodchip facilities.
Daniels, Jonathan. The Forest Is the Future. New York: International Paper Company, 1957.
Lander, Ernest McPherson, Jr. “Paper Manufacturing in South Carolina before the Civil War.” North Carolina Historical Review 29 (April 1952): 220–27.
Ohanian, Nancy Kane. The American Pulp and Paper Industry, 1900–1940. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993.
Stevenson, Louis T. The Background and Economics of American Papermaking. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.