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Nicholas-Louis Robert's Paper Machine

In 1798, Nicholas-Louis Robert, an employee of the French publishing company of Leger Didot, devised his first machine for making paper by the roll. Perhaps it was intended for making wallpaper, the only use at that time for long lengths of paper. The quality of the paper, though, was inferior to handmade paper, and the machine was far from perfect. In 1801, Robert and his brother-in-law John Gamble patented the machine in England. They divided the patent rights with their financial backers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier. The Fourdriniers' engineer, Bryan Donkin, built an improved machine. The "fourdrinier," as it was soon known, made high-quality paper and by 1807, with further improvements, it was put on the market. The Fourdrinier brothers went bankrupt in 1810, but Donkin continued to manufacture the machine. In 1827, the first two fourdrinier-style paper machines in the United States were set up at Henry Barclay's mill in Saugerties, NY. Another type of paper machine, the cylinder mould, was introduced by the Gilpin brothers in Delaware in 1817.


Model of Nicholas-Louis Robert's Paper Machine

This model was built from the drawings made by Nicholas-Louis Robert in 1800 for the English patent application of 1801. The original machine was about 10 feet long. Paper pulp (macerated rag fiber in water) filled the oval vat. Bars on the revolving cylinder scooped the pulp up and onto the belt of wire cloth. The thickness of the sheet depended on the depth of the bars on the cylinder and the speed at which the cylinder turned.

The wire cloth and its fresh layer of pulp passed through a pair of rollers to squeeze out excess water, and then the new paper was rolled up on the cylinder at the end of the machine. When enough paper had accumulated on the cylinder, a worker cut the paper free and carried it to a loft where it was hung up to dry. The machine could work at a maximum speed of about 20 feet per minute.



Papermaking was introduced to the North American colonies by William Rittenhouse in 1690, more than 500 years after the Arabs had brought the craft from Europe. The paper-mold--the principal tool of hand-papermaking--was the sieve-like frame in which each sheet was formed. A removable wooden border or "deckle," made a shallow wall around the frame. To produce a sheet of paper, a papermaker dipped the mold into a vat filled with liquid paper pulp, let the water drain away, lifted the deckle off, and then "couched," or transferred the fresh sheet from the mold onto a felt blanket. A stack of alternating sheets and felts was called a "post." After pressing the sheets together to squeeze out more water, the papermaker hung each sheet up to dry. The traditional laid mold consisted of a wooden frame crossed in one direction with closely set brass wires and with wooden ribs for support in the other direction. In the 1750s, the English printer John Baskerville introduced the wove mold, which has a mesh of woven wire. Wove molds were less expensive to make than laid moles and produced equally fine paper, but for some years laid paper with its characteristic pattern of lines remained very popular. A watermark is the impression made in paper by a wire design sewn onto the of the mold. Paper mills used watermarks to identify their products. They can be seen by holding the paper up to the light.



Related Images

View of oval vat where paper pulp was deposited before being transferred to a moving wire screen.
View of oval vat where paper pulp was deposited before being transferred to a moving wire screen.

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