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Museum Restoring Rare Model Fourdrinier

Many AOTC readers remember their first glimpse of a running paper machine—and the awe of seeing how much technology and engineering expertise goes into a simple sheet of paper. For some, viewing that first operating machine is the moment that cements a lifelong commitment to a career in the pulp and paper industry.

Now, a special restoration project at The National Museum of Industrial History (NMIH) in Bethlehem, PA, will be able to introduce a new generation of visitors to that awesome experience—in miniature. NMIH will soon be restoring to operation an extremely rare scale model of a Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine. This eighteen-foot-long model, built in 1933 by Rice Barton, was commissioned by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It was a working display, producing paper for the Institute’s print shop and sometimes hitting the road, being loaned to the New York Times and Milwaukee Journal, among others. After eighteen years in storage, it is time to revive the model and employ it as the centerpiece of the Museum’s upcoming printing exhibit planned for Spring 2018.

In conjunction with working printing presses more than a century old, the model will create a dynamic, interactive, and memorable experience for guests of all ages. At 84 years old, the paper machine is mechanically sound, but will require several months of cleaning, troubleshooting, and minor repairs, plus connections to utilities and a supply of pulp. “The machine is very complex and restoration will be challenging, but this is a labor of love and we are committed to doing as much as we can with the support of the community,” says NMIH Curator of Collections Andria Zaia.

About the Machine
The Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine, currently on loan from the Franklin Institute, is the only scale model of a Fourdrinier paper machine ever built. This important relic of history has a chance to relive its demonstration days by being brought again to working order by the National Museum of Industrial History.

The Fourdrinier machine was the first to produce a continuous roll of paper by using a woven plastic or wire mesh conveyor belt, a principle technology on which many modern paper making machines are based. The English inventors, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, developed the Fourdrinier machine based on a 1799 French patent for a continuous rolling machine, held by Louis Robert. This technology of continuous production was later applied to iron rolling and steel production, giving the Fourdrinier machine an important place in the history of both paper production and industrial manufacturing processes.

The working Fourdrinier model was commissioned by the Franklin Institute in 1933 to mark the opening of a paper industry exhibit that aimed to celebrate the larger evolution of paper production while drawing attention to local Philadelphia paper history and business. Members of the Philadelphia Paper Industry, the American Paper and Pulp Association, and other notable paper industry figures were present at the dedication of the 4000-lb. Fourdrinier machine on January 21st, 1958.

Built by Rice, Barton, & Co., of Worchester, Mass., the model Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine was mounted on a steel table, faced with oak wood, and topped with battleship linoleum. In its service days at the Franklin Institute, the Fourdrinier machine produced sheets of paper 9.5-in. wide, which continuously emerged from the machine on rolls at a rate of 5 feet per minute. After learning about the history of paper making, museum visitors could then watch paper being processed and take home their very own Fourdrinier sheet. The only Fourdrinier scale model ever built, the machine marks a notable moment in both paper production technology, and a local snapshot of Philadelphia’s History.

This miniature paper machine, which is one-twelfth the typical size of an actual machine, uses a boxlike machine chest and a large tank below the table to hold the water-and-wood-fiber pulp. Pulp pours out onto a mesh screen, and a vacuum pump helps pull water out of the pulp, forming it into a sheet of wet paper. The rest of the process is all drying.

“The most rewarding part (of the project) has been discovering how much enthusiasm is out there for the paper industry,” Zaia says. “We have made wonderful connections with so many who care about preserving the industrial history of this important American industry.”

Forging a Connection
The National Museum of Industrial History opened its doors in August, 2016, and is dedicated to preserving America’s rich industrial heritage. It is located in Bethlehem, PA in the 1913 former Bethlehem Steel Electrical Repair Shop on the largest private brownfield in America. According to Zaia, “NMIH forges a connection between America’s industrial past and the innovations of today, inspiring the visionaries of tomorrow.” The Museum is home to 20,000 square feet of exciting exhibitions and hosts several engaging programs monthly.

The upcoming exhibit is called “Hot Off the Press: Printing and Papermaking,” and it will showcase the heyday of the American printing and paper industry. “Visitors will have an opportunity to explore the evolution of paper, inks, and fonts,” Zaia explains. “The awe-inspiring Rice & Barton Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine will undoubtedly comprise the heart of this exhibit. Visitors will also marvel at printing plates, work tables, type cabinets, presses, and historic printed materials.” Visitors will learn how to set moveable type and use an 1874 J.W. Daughaday & Co. Printing Press; they’ll even be able to take home a souvenir of their day in the Print Shop. The exhibit is scheduled to run May 1, 2018 through October 21, 2018.

“We hope to engage all ages with this hands-on, exciting exhibit! We want to inform and inspire our visitors to take home the experience and develop new skills,” says Zaia. “Ultimately, as we move into our increasingly digital and hands-off world, our hope is that the public will find inspiration in the technological advancements of the past. All new innovations and inventions are somehow related to or based upon previous breakthroughs. We can only imagine what new innovations are just around the corner!

“NMIH looks forward to working with the pulp and paper industry as it restores the machine and prepares an unforgettable and enlightening exhibit,” she concludes.

Those interested in supporting the restoration project or sponsorship of the print exhibit can contact Megan Pildis in the NMIH Development Office at 610-694-6636, or contact her via email at mpildis@nmih.org

 

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