The Paper Mill That Printed LIFE Magazine

Along the banks of the majestic Wisconsin River in Central Wisconsin, resides a paper mill that was the world’s largest paper producer for nearly one hundred years.  The main players of this innovative plant were Jere Witter, Nels Johnson, and George Mead.  The paper mill began with humble beginnings and urged many others within the surrounding areas to invest.  Becoming the world’s largest paper mill was no easy feat, and it was not by accident; it took careful, frugal planning from a few men who believed in the mill, the people, and the location.

Wisconsin Rapids was built around one major plant, the Consolidated Paper Mill.  The company is well known for their environmental methods and forest management advancements.  Within the first twenty years the company ended up creating a nursery and purchasing lands that were set aside for the specific purpose of sustainable lumber usage.  George Mead knew if he wanted the plant to be around for his future grandchildren he needed to think outside of the box.  The mill’s nursery was so successful; they were even able to supply young trees to President Roosevelt during the New Deal.  This innovativeness follows through even to the current owners today.

The paper mill was also able to be ingenious when it came to inventing new ways to make paper.  Consolidated was the first company to create a method of machined enameled or glossy paper.  Every time someone reads a magazine or views a movie poster they can thank Peter Massey, who worked for Consolidated, for creating a cheaper, easier way to make this glossy paper.  Because of this the paper mill was able to land an exclusive contract with Life magazine.  Beginning in 1938, Life had their paper made only by Consolidated.  This was such a large contract that the machine, number fifteen, had its own building for it.  Later Consolidated was able to make another improvement on enameled paper with the blade coater.  In fact, Consolidated holds forty-nine patents for inventions ranging from machines to coating methods.

After almost one hundred years, Consolidated decided to sell their company to a company across seas.  Stora Enso of Helsinki, Finland purchased Consolidated for $4.8 billion and at once became the largest paper producer in the world.  However, with the upswing of technology and the many new Asian paper mills, Stora Enso was about to discover that they made a mistake.  After only a short seven year time span, Stora Enso sold the company back to a United States at a $2.7 billion loss.  The company that would take over was New Page.

Consolidated commanded a good amount of respect from the people of Central Wisconsin.  Not only did they have mills in Wisconsin Rapids, they also built mills in four other locations in the same area.  The company commanded a good deal of respect and loyalty from their employees; at the time when it was purchased by Stora Enso thirty percent of their employees had been working there for more than twenty years.  The dream that began along the banks of an untamed Wisconsin River grew to become the life blood of a community that sprang up around it.

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