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Paper Processing Workers

History

We use it every day. In fact, you are probably within an arm's reach of some kind of paper product right now. But how often do you stop to think about where paper comes from and what processes it goes through? Although you may take it for granted, the process of turning pulp into a finished paper product is an interesting and ancient one.

Wood-based paper as we know it today can be traced to China around 100 A.D. The craft of papermaking spread to the Middle East in the 8th century, and eventually, as a result of expeditions made during the Crusades, to Europe. Until the Industrial Revolution, all paper was made by hand, using a laborious process that produced a single sheet at a time. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the first papermaking machines were invented; however, these were simple contraptions that also made only one sheet of paper at a time by dipping a framed screen into a vat of pulp and allowing the sheet to dry. In the early 1800s, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier patented a machine that improved upon the early equipment and used a cylindrical mechanism to produce continuous rolls of paper (even today, some papermaking machines are called fourdrinier machines). In later years, machines were invented that chemically processed or ground pulpwood into pulp for papermaking. This made possible the mass production of paper and the development of pulp and paper processing as a major industry.

The main source of fiber for making paper used to be rags or cloth that was converted to pulp; other sources have been straws and grasses. Beginning in the mid- to late-1800s, however, most paper began to be made from wood fiber. Although the materials have changed and the machinery has become very mechanized within the last several hundred years, the essential principles used in making paper are still the same. These principles involve separating and wetting the fibers, creating the pulp, filtering the pulp, squeezing out excess water, and allowing the pulp to dry and be compressed.

As environmental issues have become increasingly important in our society, the paper processing industry has witnessed certain changes concerning the reuse of used paper. Recycling of waste paper has become an industry in itself, as environmental concerns have underscored the potential problems in disposing of our nation's trash. New occupations will continue to be formed as the recycling industry struggles to solve technical problems, such as methods for refining and purifying used paper, and general problems, such as how to encourage the public to be more aware of waste paper issues.

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