Ever since the beginning of the 2nd century AD when famous Chinese inventor Cai Lun (50-121 AD) managed to formulate first modern recipe for paper, inventors from all around the world strived to optimize that process and enable faster and more reliable papermaking process. After many centuries when secretes of paper created from wood fibers arrived to Europe via Arab traders, European advances in technology, chemistry and mechanization finally enabled creation of the paper machine. First and the basic form of this machine, whose approach to the paper making business still survives today in modern industry was called Fourdrinier Machine, and this is the tale of that incredible machine.
When it arrived in Europe, paper was expensive, rare and it did not survive well in moist environments. Even thought that was the case, inventors quickly saw in it great potential and advantages over parchment and its more high quality counterpart vellum that was created from the skin of the animals (and therefore unable to be created in large quantities). First simple paper machines tried to accelerate paper production process, but they were hard to use, powered by man power, and able to create small quantity of paper (paper fiber was poured into individual molds for each paper sheet, very inefficient approach). This all changed with 19th century when steam power became driving force of the industrial revolution. Suddenly machines received capability to work without stopping, and inventors jumped on an idea to streamline papermaking business.
Idea of a machine that had ability to produce continuous roll of paper was born in Paris in the last years of the 18th century. In 1799, Frenchmen Louis-Nicolas Robert was awarded with the patent for such machine, but had trouble to implement it because of the instability that was caused by French revolution. His business partner Saint-Léger Didot, who also worked on that patent quarreled with Robert, and eventually decided to move to England and build his machines there. With the help of Didot, his acquaintance John Gamble went to London, found connections, secured British patent on paper machine, and also secured financing from Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier.
Under the leadership of English engineer and industrialist Bryan Donkin, first Fourdrinier paper machines were created at Frogmore, Hertfordshire in 1803, which was soon expanded with two additional machines in that area. From that point on, Fourdrinier continued to build new machines, expanding the paper creating business, and causing significant drop in the price and rise in the availability of this hard to get product.
14 years after the creation of first Fourdrinier’s machine, first simple paper machine was installed at Brandywine Creek, Delaware in the United States. The real Fourdrinier’s model came to USA 10 years later, in 1827.