January 31, 1898: International Paper Incorporated

By James Lewis on January 31, 2009

January 31st is more than just Super Bowl Saturday here in the U.S.  It’s also the anniversary of the founding of International Paper.*  On this day in 1898, fourteen paper companies came together and incorporated as International Paper (IP).  Capitalized at almost $40 million dollars, IP included seventeen pulp and paper mills operating 101 paper machines with close to 1,500 tons of daily output capacity.  The new company supplied 60 percent of all American newsprint in the world’s largest market for printing paper.  Company executives hoped the large-scale merger would bring some stability to a volatile market that had seen the huge rise in production output far outstrip demand in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  Several issues and factors, however, contributed to IP’s market share plummeting from that initial 60 percent in 1898 to 26 percent by 1913.

The latter year saw the passage of the Underwood Act, which abolished tariffs on Canadian newsprint imports and made newsprint the first major commodity to enter the U.S. virtually duty free.  Abolishing the tariff fundamentally changed the industry and initially caught IP unprepared for the rapid changes.  With an infinitely larger supply of spruce trees for turning into newsprint pulp, Canadian producers began turning out newsprint for much less than IP and other American companies.  IP responded by shifting its newsprint production to Canada.  During the 1920s, IP went on a building and buying spree in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, including completing a mill at Three Rivers, Quebec, in 1922 and one in Gatineau, Quebec, in 1927.

Mill of the Canadian International Paper Company at Three Rivers, Quebec, 1930.

Canadian International Paper Company mill at Three Rivers, Quebec, 1930.

The mills at Gatineau, Dalhousie, and Three Rivers (seen above) were operated by Canadian International Paper (CIP), a wholly owned subsidiary formed in 1925.  Again, factors and trends worked against IP and made it difficult for IP to realize an adequate rate of return on its $60 million investment in Canadian newsprint.  All this occurred just before the onset of the Great Depression, when IP’s foray into Canada nearly wiped out the company.  Long story short, the company survived because of its production of kraft paper and other consumer goods and still thrives today.  In fact, today it is a Fortune 500 company.  But IP’s survival and revival is a story for another day.

What does this have to do with the Super Bowl?  Frankly, nothing.  I just wanted to get your attention by mentioning it and then rhetorically ask, Arizona?  Really?

But the emphasis on the Canadian side of IP’s story is no accident.  It’s an excuse to draw your attention to some holdings in our archives relating to Canadian International Paper.  For your listening enjoyment, archivist extraordinaire Eben has pared down audio files we have of programs done for radio broadcast in 1948.  The programs were sponsored by CIP and, not coincidentally, are about CIP operations.  The first clip highlights the newsprint creation process at the Gatineau, Quebec, paper mill and the second clip provides a profile of the same plant and its importance as a CIP mill town.  Both clips are about four minutes long.  So, phone the neighbors and wake the kids!  Gather them around the computer speakers and listen to these exciting stories of yesteryear!

Excerpt from “The Story of Newsprint” – a 1948 CIP-sponsored radio program (4min 09sec): 

Excerpt from “Plywood & Banquet” – another 1948 CIP-sponsored radio program (3min 54sec): 


* This entry borrows heavily and shamelessly from Thomas Heinrich’s fine article, “The Case of International Paper, 1898-1941,” Business History Review Vol. 75, No. 3 (Autumn 2001): 467-505.  For an overview of the history of International Paper, see “A Short History of International Paper: Generations of Pride,” Forest History Today, 1998.  For more on the history of newsprint and the history of Canada’s forest industries, check out these two FHS publications:  the Issues Series book Newsprint: Canadian Supply and American Demand by Thomas Roach, and Lost Initiatives: Canada’s Forest Industries, Forest Policy and Forest Conservation by R. Peter Gillis and Thomas Roach and co-published with Greenwood Press.

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0 responses to “January 31, 1898: International Paper Incorporated”

  1. Sam McLauchlan says:

    What a nostalgia trip! The two excerps from the radio programs were fantastic. I grew up in Gatineau and attended the open house mentioned as a 10-year old boy. Later I worked for CIP in Gatineau for four years as a summer student while I was attending university and for four years after that as an engineer. I also worked at the Three Rivers mill for a time – sadly that mill has been bulldozed to the ground and the site is being redeveloped. I would be interested in hearing the entire radio programs – does anyone know where I could locate them? Thanks

    • Sam: The CIP mill site has been completely razed and the City of Trois Rivieres is beginning to develop it with new modern living and business buildings. The site, on the corner of the St Maurice and St Lawrence Rivers, will be a beautiful area if the City does it right and they seemed to be headed in that direction.

      The old CIP filtration plant on the St Maurice was retained on site and has been turned into an ‘interpretive’ Paper Industry Centre / Museum. It’s called ‘Borealis’, is modern and very tastefully done. It features the old Grey & Sewall ‘test paper machine’ from the 3-Rivers Paper School as well as a great idea of how the old filtration plant worked. It’s well worth a visit for people who are interested in learning about the Industry in by-gone eras.

  2. Fernand Giguere says:

    I am a former employee of CIP gatineau. I was hired in 1953. i worked in tewnty of all twenty-fout departements of the Company, the last thirty-years in labotaries and as a Clerk in the Tecnical Serveice departmenent. I am currently writing the history of that milla d haveing great fun at it. Those were golrious days.

  3. Claude Labelle says:

    My grand father worked for the cip as a forman up in the Maniwaki area (Gatineau cip) and would have appeared in a documentary talking about raftsmen in the 1940’s (possibly circa 1947). Could anyone point me in the right direction as to where I could get a copy of such cip productions/promotion movies. Thank you

    • C. David Johnson says:

      Claude–
      My dad, Pete Johnson, was manager up in Clova in the late 40’s (not sure if that’s under Gatineau division) and my grandfather, Verne Johnson, was president of CIP in the late 50’s early-60’s, and started out in the 20’s with Laurentide. They were both keen movie camera guys and I have a lot of footage of log drives on the St. Maurice, and flumes in the winter cutting.

      I would think the National Film Board archives might be the first place to look for your grandfather–they were the ones doing all those docs in those days.

      Dave Johnson

  4. guy leclerc says:

    j’ai travaillé de 1965-2000 sur les machines à papier comme 6e main j’ai connu la fermeture en 1992 avec PFCP de très mauvais souvenirs puis une relance en 1993 sur le nom TRIPAP puis fermeture en 2000 comme machine tender je n’ose passer sur les terrains depuis la fermeture suite à la perte de plusieurs amis je n’ai jamais visité BORÉALIS je ne suis pas capable même après tout ce temps j’ai des pincements au cœur.de plus on nous a volé notre plan de pension qui aujourd’hui nous serait bienvenu,.j’ai 67 ans j’ai de bons souvenirs mais les mauvais sont plus forts et dur a oublié .merci jack