Bowater Paper mill

Bowater’s first step towards becoming a paper manufacturer was the purchase of a site at Northfleet on the south side of the Thames estuary near Gravesend in May 1914. World War I interrupted the firm’s plans and it was not until 1923 that the construction of a paper mill could be considered. The contractor was Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. Limited, a major armaments manufacturer which turned to other activities after the end of the war and had recently built a paper mill at Corner Brook in Newfoundland. Bowater too had an interest in the Corner Brook development, since its U.S. marketing subsidiary was sole agent for the sale of Corner Brook’s output. There were serious flaws in Armstrong’s design of the Northfleet mill, and modifications had to be made during construction. These changes led to large cost overruns and delayed the commencement of full production from July 1925 until almost a year later.

Headquartered in Greenville, Bowater Incorporated is a world leader in the manufacture of newsprint and coated ground-wood papers. The company began in England in 1889 as a family-run paper supply business. In 1924 family members incorporated as Bowater Paper Company and commenced paper manufacturing operations. During the ensuing decades, the company went international by establishing plants in Scandinavia, Canada, and the United States. Bowater opened its first U.S. facility in Calhoun, Tennessee, then set its sights on constructing a massive paper and pulp mill at Catawba in York County, South Carolina. The successful recruitment of Bowater was an early high-water mark in South Carolina’s campaign to attract foreign manufacturing, but it also underscored the lengths to which state leaders would go to secure industrial development.

The Catawba mill produces coated paper, uncoated ground-wood paper, and pulp, with a total annual production capacity of 982,000 short tons. Catawba’s Pulp Mill No. 2 reached a milestone of 2 million tons in 1996. Its Pulp Mill No. 3 is the largest coated ground-wood machine in North America. The relationship between Bowater and South Carolina was further strengthened in 1993, when the company moved its North American headquarters to Greenville.

On June 15, 2012 the parent company Resolute Forest Products announced that the mill would be idling its Bowater Mersey Paper Company Ltd. mill indefinitely, effective with the end of the last shift on June 16. Resolute Forest Products also indicated that it would be selling its assets in Nova Scotia, including the idled mill, its timber lands, and the Brooklyn Power Corporation.[1]

Eric Bowater was determined to establish Bowater as a major force in U.K. papermaking as fast as possible. To this end he negotiated the sale of a controlling interest in the firm to the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere, which reduced the family’s shareholding to 40 percent. Rothermere’s backing allowed Bowater to raise the finance to double the output of the Northfleet mill in 1928. He looked immediately for further opportunities to expand and a new project was initiated to build a large paper mill on the Mersey, near Liverpool, which was financed jointly by Bowater, Rothermere, and Beaverbrook newspapers. The latter entered a long-term contract to receive supplies of newsprint from the new undertaking. By the end of 1930 the output of Bowater’s mills was 175,000 tons of newsprint per year, 22 percent of the U.K.’s total output. In order to achieve this result, it had been necessary to cede control of the business to a pair of press barons. Rothermere’s business, however, was badly affected by the slump at the beginning of the 1930s and in 1932, to raise cash, he sold his Bowater shareholding back to Bowater. Beaverbrook followed suit. Eric Bowater thus found himself in absolute control of the firm again, now the U.K.’s largest newsprint producer.

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