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Without paper, where would we be?

As both a hand papermaker and a newspaper collector, this single question, or rather curiosity intrigues me. Where would we be today without paper? I'm sure that all of us could speculate or even become philosophical about it. But the fact remains that we do have paper!

1990 marked the 300th Anniversary of the first paper mill in the United States - The Rittenhouse Mill. On March 13, 1990, the United States Postal Service released the American Papermaking postal card celebrating this historic occasion. The Rittenhouse paper mill is featured on the card as well as the watermarks employed at the mill. But what of its beginnings?

In 1690 on the banks of the Monoshone Creek near Germantown, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, William Rittenhouse founded the first paper mill in the United States. Rittenhouse was born in Germany in 1644 near the city of Mulheim on the river Ruhr, his papermaking skills being mainly obtained in Holland.

William Rittenhouse, along with his sons Nicholas (Claus) and Gerhard (Garrett), both papermakers as well, and his daughter Elizabeth settled in German Town in 1688. William was a Mennonite, the first minister of that church in Germantown, and the first Mennonite bishop in America.

In order to make the mill a success, Rittenhouse teamed up with the first printer in Pennsylvania, William Bradford and two other gentlemen. Bradford depended heavily on the mill for a supply of paper for his printing establishment. Before this time Bradford relied solely on paper imported from Europe. Bradford continued to rely on the Rittenhouse mill even after relocating his printing business to New York. In 1697 Bradford rented his part of the property on which the mill stood to the Rittenhouses upon the condition that the mill supply paper to Bradford for ten years. In 1696 the following verse was written by John Holme under the title of A True Relation of the Flourishing State of Pennsylvania, but it was not published until 1847.

This verse relates to William Bradford and the Rittenhouse paper mill:

Here dwelt a printer and I find
That he can doth print books and bind;
He wants not paper, ink, nor skill
He's owner of a paper mill.
The paper mill is here hard by
And makes good paper frequently
But the printer, as I do here tell,
Is gone to New York to dwell.
No doubt but he will lay up bags
If he can get good store of rags.
Kind friend, when thy old shift is rent
Let it to th' paper mill be sent.

In 1704 Bradford sold his interest in the mill to the Rittenhouses. It is interesting to note that Bradford had a monopoly on all of the paper produced at this mill from 1697 to 1707. The yearly output of the Rittenhouse mill amounted to 1200 reams of paper. Unfortunately this quantity was not sufficient to meet all of Bradford's needs, so he continued to import paper from Europe. The original mill, built in 1690, was entirely destroyed by a spring freshlet in 1701. The following year a new mill was constructed only later to be destroyed by fire. A third mill was built which stood until the late 1800's. (The USPS postal card depicts the third mill.)

A unique feature of the American Papermaking postal card is the printed cachet in the lower left corner featuring the Rittenhouse mill watermark.

The first watermark used in Rittenhouse paper was the single word "Company," designating the original partnership. This watermark was used from about 1690, when the mill was first established, until 1704 when Rittenhouse became sole owner. The second watermark used in Rittenhouse paper features a monogram WR, the initials of the principal founder, on one half of the sheet of paper, while on the other half appeared a clover leaf inside a crowned shield. Underneath the shield, in outlined letters is the word "Pensilvania." The clover leaf design was adopted from the townmark or seal of the village of Germantown.

Today, in a community known as RittenhouseTown, several houses which the Rittenhouse families lived remain, as well as other houses which were built around the mill. Some of these houses are open for tours. If you would like more information on RittenhouseTown write: Historic RittenhouseTown, 206 Lincoln Drive, Philadlephia PA 19144-4903. Telehone (215)438-5711 Email Web site:

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