From Recycled Rags to Reduced Footprints

Sustainability is at the heart of Glatfelter’s history and future

As the Civil War ravaged our young nation in late 1863, rags of white linen or cotton—the most often used raw materials for 18th- and 19th-century papermaking—were expensive and in short supply.

It was a challenge for young entrepreneur Philip Henry Glatfelter, who’d recently purchased a paper mill in Spring Forge (now Spring Grove), Pennsylvania. Glatfelter spent the next seven months scouring the countryside for a supply of rags large enough to run his mill without interruption.

When Glatfelter opened his doors for business on July 2, 1864, his rag assortment—from which scraps were shredded, placed in vats of water, and pounded with hammers until a sludge of mashed pulp formed—supported the production of 1,500 pounds of newsprint per day.

Glatfelter subsequently devoted his life to improving his company, his community, and eventually his country. The company became one of the first in the country to make paper using more sustainable wood fibers instead of rags, and then led the industry in forestry education programs for farmers and landowners. Energy generated from the mill powered the first electric streetlights in Spring Grove.

Future Glatfelter generations continued the tradition. Philip’s son, William, discovered how to process softwoods as well as hardwoods to ease the pressure on hardwood forests. The company became a national role model for wise use of land and water resources and improved waste treatment facilities.

While recycled rags no longer play a role at Glatfelter’s, the company’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing is just as strong now as it was more than 150 years ago. Only now, it aims to improve the world.