Ulman Stromer and the First Paper Mill North of the Alpes

Stromer’s paper mill in the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493

On January 6, 1329, German long-distance trader, factory owner and councillor of Nuremberg Ulman Stromer was born. Stromer established the very first permanent paper mill north of the Alpes, at the Pegnitz river not far from the city.

The first writing material reached Europe in the 12th century and first paper trade is recorded in the near of Valencia, Spain. The area developed an important trade location for paper, since lots of flax was present and the bordering countries also gained their interest in the material. The real machinery production however, started in Europe’s medieval era. It was found, that using water driven paper mills would optimize the production process and the very first known mills were built around 1282. Throughout the years of development, the paper’s quality was dramatically increased and supported the success of Johannes Gutenberg‘s invention of mechanical movable type printing later on [4,5].

But, going back some years, Ulman Stromer was also an important person in the development of paper and books in Europe. He was apprenticed in the family company with workshops around Europe and traveled to Barcelona, Genoa, Milan, and Krakow, which highly influenced his later career. Later on, Stromer and his brothers took over the company’s management and also his reputation in Nuremberg grew.

In 1390, Stromer built the very first paper mill north of the Alpes and supported a cheaper paper production in Germany, which was soon replacing the extremely complex and costly production of parchment paper. The oldest illustration of the paper mill was recorded in the Nuremberg Chronicle [6]. His workers had to swear an oath not to tell the secrets of paper production and Stromer managed the paper mill himself until 1394. 

The first paper mills east of the Elbe River were established in the middle of the 17th century.  Francois Feureton was another important figure in the development of paper, as he established several mills in the following years. Until the mid 19th century, the needed material was made of used textiles, which turned old worn out rags into very rare and costly goods for the traders. Due to this development, Jacob Christian Schäffer began experimenting with paper production out of wood and plants instead of used clothes in the 18th century, but despite his well documented efforts the quality was still too bad to be sold. Friedrich Gottlob Keller managed to produce pulp from wood and improved his findings in 1845 until he was able to sell his product. After Keller’s death, his procedure was improved and used industrially.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Ray Tomasso on ‘The Art of Paper‘.

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