The history of paper and its industries

We know paper! Vinsen is a company that has been specialising in cleaning the paper industry for 20 years. We are therefore very interested in this noble product that is an integral part of everyone’s daily lives. At work or at home, paper is everywhere, but do we really know where it comes from?

22 Jun.

Paper is used to write, to play, to communicate, to package products, to clean, to spread knowledge… In short, it plays a fundamental role in our lives. And in the Vosges, we have the distinction of having several internationally renowned paper mills. Our heavily wooded territory is conducive to the development of paper companies. This is where the Vinsen adventure also began, before spreading to many other countries. Today’s paper mills are large industries with state-of-the-art machinery. But before we get to such technologies, let’s look at the birth of paper and its first uses. Do you know the history of paper?

The ancestors of paper: papyrus and parchment

The need to transmit has always existed. History shows us that there are traces of signs written by cavemen on stone or bone. Later, the Egyptians invented the famous papyrus made from the extract of reeds that grow on the banks of the Nile. Very long, smooth and easy to fold into a roll, papyrus was used in the Mediterranean basin as a medium for drawing and writing during Antiquity and the High Middle Ages.

The parchment then appeared in the Middle Ages in Pergamon, Asia Minor, where there was a magnificent library of 200,000 volumes. The latter was forbidden to use papyrus by the Egyptians for fear that its library would surpass that of Alexandria. Forced to find an alternative, the inhabitants of Pergamon see the birth of the scroll. It is made of animal skin (sheep, goat, calf) worked in such a way as to accommodate writing.

Papyrus and parchment were nevertheless dethroned by the arrival of paper.

The invention of paper

Paper was discovered in China around 100 AD. The first paper pulps were made from old rags, bark and netting. The technique progressed to using only mulberry bark dissolved in water and then dried. For five centuries, the invention and use of paper in this form remained the property of the Chinese. The secret was transmitted to Japan in 610, then to Central Asia in 750 and to Egypt around the 10th century.

Paper first appeared in Europe in the 12th century, first in Spain. In France, the first traces of paper archives can be found in the 13th century. Paper was democratised thanks to Gutenberg who first developed an ancient typewriter (the printing press). This discovery increased the mass production of books to the point where there was a shortage of cloth for printing. Manufacturers are now looking for an alternative. In 1798, the Frenchman Nicolas Robert, an inspector at the Essonnes paper mill, developed the first pulping machine; in 1803, the English brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier improved the process. The industrialisation of paper began in 1825 in Europe and the United States. The use of paper develops and the first packaging cartons appear. In 1840, a mechanical pulping process was developed that reduced costs.

The industrialisation of paper in France

According to the specialised media, Le Maitre Papetier, “France is the 6th largest producer of paper and cardboard in Europe“. According to the latest figures from COPACEL (Union Française des Industries des Cartons, Papiers et Celluloses), in 2019 the French industry comprised 74 companies operating 84 mills and 128 paper and board machines. It employed 11,000 people and had a total turnover of about EUR 5 billion.
The French paper industry has a long history with factories that have existed for hundreds of years.

Paper in the Vosges

In the Vosges, there are 12 industries specialising in paper and cardboard. The oldest dates from 1958 and the most recent from 2014. These factories prove the dynamism of this sector, which is very important to us. Vinsen has specialised in cleaning the paper industry since 2003. The family business is now the European leader in its field, while continuing to support its historic Vosges factories.

Sources :

Le Maitre Papetier
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