In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

For The Love Of Paper

Text by Elliott E. “Bud” Burns, David Gawtry, and Nghia Ha
Images provided by The Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Rumford “Falls” Maine, as seen today, is the result of the entrepreneurship and foresight of a young man thrust into supporting his mother and siblings at the early age of thirteen, upon the accidental death of his father. Hugh J. Chisholm developed his love for paper when he sold newspapers on the expanding railroad lines. Within only a few years, Hugh and his brother, the “Chisholm Brothers”, had contracts to provide exclusive distribution rights of newspapers, tourist guides and souvenir books of travel over 5,000 miles of rail and steamship lines. They had over 200 uniformed employees covering the rails from Chicago, Illinois, to Portland, Maine, and east to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with steamboat lines which also included the major lines on the St. Lawrence River. While others looked toward the West and the new horizons, Hugh set sights on the East and the vast natural resources that would expand his “love for paper” through its manufacture.

Hugh's first venture in Maine and the paper industry, at the age of 25, was the manufacturing of wood fiber tableware which was lost to fire. His next was to establish the Umbagog Pulp Company at Livermore Falls. This, however, did not satisfy his vision of high quality papers that would be in much demand for this growing nation. Hugh heard of the great water falls of the Androscoggin River located in Rumford, Maine and made venture to see for himself. His visions of the falls, the valley, and the surrounding natural resources made him realize it was all here and could be developed into his ultimate dream. The year of 1882 was to be an eventful one in the life of Hugh J. Chisholm and the future of the wilderness town of Rumford.

It took eight years to quietly negotiate the purchase of lands surrounding the falls, upriver lands and the valley lands below the falls, totaling some 1400 acres, in a manner not to inflate their present rural value. This was accomplished by a local confidante, farmer Waldo Pettengill, while Hugh was working on the design of the manufacturing facilities and the layout of the residential town. In 1890, the master dream of Hugh J. Chisholm became reality with canals being dug and dams being built to harness the water power. The waters were diverted to canals to service the paper making facilities along the canal banks. Railroad service was also extended by Hugh J. Chisholm to Rumford, thus supplying a way for the much needed construction materials and manufacturing equipment and, in time, the means of getting the finished paper to market. The history of Rumford as a great paper making center began on July 12, 1893, when The Rumford Falls Paper Company manufactured its first paper. Its capacity was 60 tons of newsprint per day.


Hugh J. Chisholm joined together with his associates, in 1898, to form a new company, International Paper, combining 20 pulp and paper manufacturing plants in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Northern New York, which included the Rumford Falls Paper Company. This amounted to about 60 percent of the newsprint manufactured in the United States.

All during the 1890's Hugh could see the growth of the country needing many more tons of fine quality papers and set his sights on providing just that in his industrial town of Rumford. Thus was born his great Oxford Paper Company on December 7, 1899 and ratified by the State Attorney General the next day. A Board of Directors met a week later, with Waldo Pettengill elected as president. Hugh Chisholm could not hold this office as he was then President of IP. However, Mr. Chisholm was so organized that all the plans were in place such that before the end of December all of the major contracts were proposed and considered for all phases of the construction. In 1900, contracts were awarded for the actual construction. As the construction started, Mr. Chisholm was making a detailed survey of the markets for quality papers, and it became apparent that two additional paper machines would be needed to meet the demand. On September 6, it was decided to double the design capacity of the new Rumford Mill.

Production at the new mill began on November 9, 1901 with the first cook of soda pulp and on November, 17 for the sulphite pulp. The first paper machine went into production on December 21, 1901. By February, 1902, all four paper machines were in operation and producing about 44 tons of paper a day. Shortly after the startup of these four paper machines, the Oxford Paper Company secured what was then considered one of the most valuable contracts in the paper industry. This was to manufacture all the postal cards used by the United States Post Office. The Oxford was producing these cards at a rate of 3,000,000 per day. This contract was extended and enlarged for an additional four years on Dec 13, 1905. Numbers 5 and 6 paper machines were installed in 1905 and 1906 respectively in order to keep up production for the publishing business.

Hugh J Chisholm was very proud of the achievements through the years, with his quality paper production meeting the demands of the customers and the ability of his fellow workers to meet all challenges. He was a very hard worker, demanding of himself and others, yet was concerned for the welfare of others, such as in adequate housing and education. It might be said that he was born with visions of tomorrow in his eyes. It was like that throughout his entire life. He was proud of his Industrial Town of Rumford that he carved out and transformed from a slow moving agricultural land to a thriving town known across the land. His concern and feelings for all were demonstrated by his efforts to provide adequate and suitable housing and build the Mechanics Institute, now known as the Community Center, a recreation and educational center for the people of the community.


In 1912, Hugh J Chisholm stepped down as President of Oxford to remain on the board as only a member, while his son, by the same name, would take the helm. His son had attended Yale in the Arts and Harvard Law School and had been brought up in a pulp and paper family. He already had a wide knowledge of the industry. Now, as President of Oxford, he was determined that the company would continue to be one of the foremost producers of fine quality book and specialty papers. He set into motion plans for further expansion in Rumford. He observed a growing demand for high gloss papers. The new Maine Coated Paper Company. was organized in 1913 with six single coating machines. It was to purchase paper in rolls from the Oxford Paper Company, coat both sides, then cut to sheet size, package, and ship to the customer. Expansion was needed, such that 12 coaters were in operation by 1930. This operation became part of the Oxford name in 1922.

The new President of Oxford continued in his father's footsteps, seeing the need for expansion to meet the needs of a rapid growing country. Between 1914 and 1918, three new paper machines were installed, A, B, and C in the south end of the paper mill complex. The No's. 7 and 8 had been used to account for two little used paper machines that had been purchased from International Paper Co. for the production of heavier weights and brown papers. The A,B,C connotation was changed to 7, 8, and 9 in the 1960's after removal of the IP machines.

WW I, the Depression of the 30's, and WW II all developed during Hugh J.'s term as President of Oxford. He vowed to press forward and be in a position to produce in record amounts after the conflicts were over. Many acres of woodlands were purchased and satellite pulping plants were obtained. No. 11 Paper Machine was installed and brought on line in 1924. By 1930, 30 years since its beginning, the Rumford Mill was the country's leading manufacturer of fine quality book and specialty papers, soda pulp, and sulphite pulp. The plant at Rumford was the largest book paper mill in the world under one roof and had a capacity of 350 tons of paper a day.

The Rumford Falls Power Co.'s ability to generate adequate power for the paper manufacture and all the residential homes and businesses in the Rumford Falls area had been stretched to its limit. Major reconstruction, with additional head gates, penstocks, and three new electrical generating turbines were installed 1918. Power now was in abundance such that electrical power was made available for many miles from its point of origin. A survey of the steam power to drive the steam engines of each paper machine, dry the paper, cook the pulp, and heat the buildings found a need for a new and modern steam plant. This plant, authorized in 1930, had room for four boilers, with the first two units going on line in Jan. 1931. All through the Depression, rebuilds of most of the paper machines were completed, as slack demand for book papers allowed for staggered machine outages. The general world Depression and a country business Depression lasted for nine years, coupled with the major flooding of the rivers in 1936, left the Oxford Paper Co. with little profit. This would be running directly into the pre-WW II era.

These years of war presented a big challenge to all American industries. To the Oxford Paper Company the challenge was: How to keep producing paper needed in the war effort despite frightening shortages of manpower, wood, chemicals, and the supplies normally needed in the operation of its mills? It took careful planning and considerable ingenuity to keep the Oxford mills operating. Manpower became a premium, as able bodied men were either drafted or enlisted in the armed forces. Many women were enlisted to do work in all departments of the mills and keep production rates up for needed war supplies.

Research and development of new grades were always a part of the Oxford Mill's program. It was these achievements that kept Oxford in the forefront of coated papers. In 1946, Oxford's No. 11 Paper Machine was completely rebuilt, modernized, and converted to a coating machine. Plans were also completed in 1946 for the installation of another high speed coated paper machine, the 523 foot long No. 12 machine. Room also was required to house new super calenders. These went into production in 1948.

The supplying of electrical power to the residential neighborhood and businesses needed to come to an end, and the power plant was sold to the Central Maine Power Company, which took over maintenance of the plant and supplied the mill with power. Rumford Falls Power completed an expansion of their power generation capabilities in 1954 by installing two new penstocks from the middle canal to turbine generators located on river bed basin 80 feet below. This expansion was to utilize the full extent of the Great Falls as it was first envisioned some 76 years earlier by the original Hugh J. Chisholm.

Hugh J. Chisholm II was now seventy years old and had served as President of the Oxford Paper for 44 years. These were all trying years, through thick and thin, but Hugh developed the Oxford Paper Company from an organization producing 41,260 tons of paper per year to one producing 270,740 tons. Through his efforts he had kept the Company in the forefront of producers of fine quality book, business, and specialty papers.


William H. Chisholm was the third generation of his family to become President of Oxford. He had worked summers in the industry while attending college and then worked full time in several departments learning the manufacturing process. His next position was in sales, which led to positions in management and on to becoming President. William H. Chisholm brought to the presidency, as did his father and grandfather before him, new energies and a keen business sense.

Research and Development was still a strong asset at Oxford which developed a new trial blade method of applying coating for the high gloss sheet market. The Main Coated Department had produced high gloss papers for many years and had been upgraded, but was still not equal to the market demands. In 1956 it was announced the installation of a new high speed trailing blade coater, known as the North Star Coater, which would be placed in the north yard of the Rumford Mill. This addition would require many alterations and additions to processes though out the mill. The greatest change was that process waters had to be upgraded to reduce impurities and sand graduals, as these left scratches and lumps on the coated sheet. A new water treatment plant, with major supply lines and many miles of stainless steel pipe, was installed to deliver the purest of waters to all departments.

As the above addition was being completed, Oxford Paper Co. was to purchase the outstanding stock of National Geographic Society's wholly owned subsidiary, Champion International, in Massachusetts, on June 4, 1958. ( It is of historical interest to note that Hugh J. Chisholm, The Founder of Oxford Paper, was elected a member of the first board of directors of Champion International in 1901.) At the same time, it was announced that Oxford had entered into a long-term contract to supply the paper requirements for the National Geographic Magazine.

The 1960's were a time of upgrade for many of the paper making facets. The old coal boilers were converted to oil-fired, and recovery burning boilers were added to retrieve costly chemicals. Another structure loomed on the horizon in 1960. It was to house a new lime kiln, 275 feet in length. This, again, was to save chemicals from the process. It was soon discovered that the speed and ability of No 10 paper machine (built in 1964) to produce heavy basis weights would create a need for more fiber. The wood processing faculties were old and tired, necessitating the building of a new woodroom in 1966. This completed ten years of modernization and building for the future by the third generation of the Chisholm family.

William H. also knew that the original equipment and systems would soon also need attention, and that additional capital would be continuously required to keep abreast of the paper industry technologies. He knew that otherwise there would be a slippage of his mill's stature in the marketplace. He was also desirous of expanding the Oxford's capabilities by developing a new operation in Michigan. In the financial environment of the '60's, further borrowing was not an option. He went into the market looking for a compatible merger.


It was announced on August 1, 1967, that Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Floyd Gottwald of the Ethyl Corporation were able to negotiate a satisfactory merger agreement. Ethyl claimed to have studied the dream of Mr. Chisholm and Michigan, but, after the fact, felt it not a good investment. The merger with Oxford coincided almost exactly with a drastic decline in paper prices, part of the cyclical pattern of the paper industry. Mr. Chisholm left his position after four years as Vice President of Paper Manufacturing of Ethyl Corp. when he was not consulted in the sale of portions of the Albermarle Paper Company, a portion of Ethyl holdings. Ethyl continued to be run by the Gottwald Family.

C. Raymond Hailey was elevated to the Vice President position with task of making Oxford profitable and ready to be placed back on the market. The Mechanics Institute was the first to feel this effect and was given to a Board of Directors which would govern the activities and maintain the properties. The Canadian timber holdings were sold to the government; No's. 1 and 3 Paper Machines were shut down as they were not contributing to profits. Ethyl had Beloit redesign No. 11 Paper Machine with new trailing blade coaters such that the Northstar Coater was idled in 1974.

The Clean Air of 1963 and The Clean Water of 1965 Acts caused the Ethyl to act quickly, as both were mandated for completion by the end of 1976. The water treatment plant and collection system was $12,000,000 alone and was to be the last official act of Ethyl. Mr. Gottwald is quoted as saying, “The purchase of Oxford was our own fault for not thoroughly examining what we were going to buy. It was a mistake.”


Boise Cascade Corporation, a major player in the paper industry, was able to complete the purchase of the Oxford properties from Ethyl Corp. on April 26, 1976 for a sum of 90 million dollars. Part of the sales agreement was that Ethyl had to complete the waste water treatment in accordance with federal laws or allow funding for its completion.

The Rumford mill fit perfectly into Boise's growing family of pulp and paper mills. It equipped the company with its first major manufacturing operation in the northeast, and provided its first coated paper manufacturing capability. Boise Cascade had thoroughly studied the Rumford facility prior to the purchase. Immediate studies were initiated to determine the best means to modernize the plant that Ethyl had recognized would take millions of dollars to properly automate. The first major change was the centralization and computerization of wrapping and shipping the finished product. In-depth studies aimed at placing Boise Cascade in the lead of manufacturing coated papers showed that a new wide high speed machine was required.

The skyline shortly started changing in Rumford with No. 15 Paper Machine taking shape. This was the first new paper machine to be installed since No. 10 Machine in 1964. No. 15 Paper Machine would come on line in August 1980. These added paper production capabilities were necessary to bolster all other operations. New sources of fiber were needed, as was additional supplies of steam and electricity, as well as an increased ability to recover chemicals. During the 1980's, Boise Cascade also spent millions of dollars to keep the Rumford Mill in the forefront of modern automation and technology. With Boise came the computer age and nuclear source devices that could measure thickness, conductivity, moisture, and quality indexes on materials in a vessel, a pipeline, or on a sheet already formed and traveling at a speed of 40 miles per hour.

A study was conducted in 1985, prompted by the high price of oil as a major source for producing steam and electricity. In 1987 a new company was formed, The Rumford Co-Generation Company, which could burn oil, wood bio-mass, coal, chipped rubber, auto tires, and natural gas as fuel to produce steam at 1250 psi. This steam could be used for producing electricity and, as a byproduct, could be sold for use in the paper plant. Boise Cascade was hired to operate and maintain this new facility in a relationship similar to that, many years prior, between Oxford Paper Company and the Maine Coated Paper Co.

Boise Cascade Corp. maintained its total commitment to keeping the Rumford facility in a position technically, physically, mechanically, and electrically with state-of-the-art paper making equipment.


On September 1996, after 20 years of investment in the facility, Boise Cascade Corporation announced that it had agreed to sell the pulp and paper mill in Rumford to the Mead Corporation of Dayton Ohio for $650 million. The cash deal, scheduled for completion by the end of that year, included 667,000 acres of related timberland. The more than 1,400 Boise Cascade employees in Maine were transferred to Mead's work force.

The purchase of the Rumford mill, with an annual capacity of 490,000 tons of coated groundwood and free sheet papers, enabled Mead to expand its coated paper business.

Mead, a $5 billion forest products company based in Dayton, Ohio, produced coated papers for periodicals, catalogs, books, and commercial printing. Mead was also a major producer of paper products for schools and offices, as well as packaging and paperboard.

On June 29th, 1999 The Mead Corp. announced its intention to shut down four uncoated paper machines (5, 7, 8, and 9) at its Rumford mill by Dec. 31, 1999, affecting about 200 workers and resulting in a $25 million charge to the company, mostly in the second quarter, to cover asset write-offs and severance related costs. The four machines had a production capacity of about 110,000 tons of uncoated freesheet and produced uncoated commodity grades and product for use ins specialty applications. The age of the machines and an initiative by Mead to sharpen its focus on producing coated paper led to the decision to shut down the machines.
Number 9 Machine was converted to a pulp dryer, replacing Number 4 machine. In addition, the mill's No. 11 coated paper machine was shutdown in November 1998. It was restarted in early 1999 and permanently shut down on December 2001.


On August 29th 2001, Mead Corp. and Westvaco Corp. agreed Wednesday to merge in a $3 billion stock swap, adding to the ongoing consolidation in a forest-products industry beset with excess inventory resulting from weakening demand and falling prices.

Mead was best known for its school supplies, particularly notebooks, while Westvaco, known for packaging, also produced specialty chemicals.

The new company was named MeadWestvaco Corp., with Mead shareholders owning a 50.2 percent stake in the combined company, and Westvaco shareholders 49.8 percent.


NewPage was born out of MeadWestvaco's decision to sell its writing and printing papers business to Cerberus Capital Management L.P. and focus on packaging. On May 2nd 2005, MeadWestvaco Corporation announced that it had completed the sale of its Papers business and associated assets for $2.3 billion to NewPage Corporation, a new company controlled by Cerberus Capital Management L.P., a private New York-based investment firm.

The paper mill has existed for over a hundred years. It has provided the citizens of Rumford and surrounding area a place to work, with a better than average income to raise their families. Some of the current employees are the third or the fourth generations of families employed by the paper industry. Let us hope it continues into the future.


A Gazeteer of the State of Maine with Numerous Illustrations, by George Jones Varney , 1836-1901, B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill, Boston, MA., 1881;

History of Rumford, Oxford County, Maine From Its First Settlement in 1779 to the Present Time , by William B. Lapham, Press of the Maine Farmer, Boston, MA. 1890;

Hugh J. Chisholm’s Magic Town, 1882-1912, by Peter McKenna (Master’s Thesis);

The Oxford Story, A History of the Oxford Paper Company, 1847-1958 by John J. Leane and Elliott E. “Bud” Burns, The Oxford Paper Company, 1958;

A History of Rumford, Maine 1774-1972 by John J. Leane and 1972-2000 by Elliott E. “Bud” Burns, Rumford Historical Society, Rumford Publishing Co, Inc., 1972 and Josten’s Printing and Publishing, Topeka, KS, 2000;

Rumford Falls Times

Lewiston Evening Journal