The Art of Papermaking

Lately my blog has focused on, or in someway mentioned, the fact that Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland. I realize that I’m highlighting an image outsiders have of my home state. Yet, even if the rest of the world visualizes a landscape of farms inhabited with Holstein cows, cheese factories and, maybe, Lambeau Field rising above red barns, there are plenty of other facets in the state’s diverse economy.

For Example, the area I call home was once known as the Toilet Paper Capital of the World. I know, not something you’d really want plastered on a post card sent to friends or family. None the less, paper companies, with the aid of the Fox River, have been thriving in this area for over a century.

In Appleton, situated in an old paper mill, once belonging to a stretch along the Fox known as the Mile of Mills, is what is now the Paper Discovery Center. A paper museum, as this place for all intents and purposes is, seemed a novel and interesting place to visit. What I found was an informative collection of exhibits strongly geared at entertaining children.

We drive along what almost appears as a back road in the heart of the city of Appleton. As it winds along the early spring torrents of the Fox River, I wonder what I will find. Pulling into a parking lot of an unassuming brick building, our journey starts. Outside this shell that once housed a functioning paper making facility, remnants of the mill are on display.

We mosey towards the glass doors and find ourselves in a large open expanse. We pay our $7 dollar per adult and are informed that there will be a paper making demonstration at 11:30, where one can make their own paper. I’m not really thrilled about it, but Heidi is dead set on doing it.

We peruse the exhibits. There are exhibits, such as cloned trees and paper factoids. We find out how tissue and toilet paper is made. Along with the info is a giant roll of toilet paper.

The most interesting part of the museum is that it answers the question, “What did people use before toilet paper?” The answer involves some pretty interesting materials including a corn cob – I don’t know if I want to know how that was used.

Among other info, a timeline highlights the progression of this particular paper mill, including its closing in 2000. There are explanations on how a watermark is created and why they were used. Other interesting tidbits are there for ones investigation.

I have to admit, I’m a bit disappointed. Paper is as common as it comes, how its made and history would seem something that is up my alley. However, there isn’t any paper making machinery within the Museum. Nor are there really any interesting historical artifacts. I applaud this center for bringing paper, which is a very vital part of Northeastern Wisconsin’s economy, to the forefront. There just isn’t a lot of points of interest inside.

It’s eleven thirty and it’s paper making time. The process of making this paper, based on the exhibits text, is very similar to the factory process. The only exception, instead of using wood to create our slurry, we’re using paper. Yeah we’re using paper to make paper.

It’s a great activity for a young one, especially if you have a girl. They can pick pretty colored sheets to mix and create their own bright and colorful paper. The kiddos can also use glitter to mix in the slurry.

After is all said and done, we have a thick piece of colored paper. I think, if you have children, the demonstration could stick with them and they would have a working knowledge of how paper is made. Does that makes them better people or more well rounded? I doubt it. But hey, it is one of those mysteries that always remained cloudy during my own childhood. It seemed like pure magic that one could take a tree and transform the wood into the pages of a book.

After all is said and done, this place is not bad. It’s well cared for. The exhibits are evidence of passion and interest. I just really didn’t pull much from it personally. I just feel there could have been a more extensive and comprehensive exhibit on paper’s history. Like I said, maybe some actual paper making machinery and hardware. You can judge for yourself of course.

Safe Travels!

Author: Chris Karas

I am a 44 year old man living in Green Bay, Go Pack!! I love History, give me the origins of almost anything noteworthy and I'm all ears. I also love outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and camping. However, I don't mind a few days in fresh, bustling cities with interesting historic attractions.

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