The Papermaker
by Angela & Sophie

Have you ever wondered how the Declaration of Independence got on paper? Who was the person that first made paper in Colonial times? How was it used? If you read this, your questions will be answered.

In 1688, paper was not made like it is now. In Colonial times paper was made out of cloth and linen rags. Today it is made of wood from trees. (Wood was used in the 1840s for making paper.) The first person who made paper in Colonial times was William Rittenhouse. Colonial people were thankful that he came. Not many men practiced papermaking because of the steady hand and careful skill it required. Colonists needed paper for writing out receipts, keeping records, newspaper, books, writing letters, and so much more. In 1690 Rittenhouse built the first paper mill in the colonies in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania became home to many paper mills in the early 1700s. 

Ragpickers (apprentices) gathered cotton and linen rags, rolled them in a ball and piled them up. They were beaten by a hammer into a pulp. Then the rags were washed and stored in a chest. Then it was dumped into water and stirred to make sure it did not settle to the bottom. Then a wooden frame covered with wire that looked like a screen was dipped into the mixture. It was then carefully lifted out holding a thin  layer of the rag mixture. After drying and polishing this would become paper. Paper was either cream colored, coffee colored, or gray depending on the water and the rags it was made from.

Some tools they used were:

  • ASPS - these were the horns that the paper mold was leaned on to drain water from wet paper
  • Felts - the woolen cloth onto which the sheets of wet paper were turned
  • Mold - the wooden frame used to form the pieces of paper
  • Stamping Mill - a machine used to beat rags into pulp


Click on a trade below to read more about it.

Source: Fisher, Leonard Everett. The Papermakers. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

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