Specialized in paper products made with local wood pulp
whatcom historical society
For more than 70 years the manufacture of wood pulp and paper products was a significant industrial activity on the Bellingham waterfront.
Prior to 1920, Whatcom County’s extensive timber resources were primarily used to produce lumber and shingles at the numerous sawmills throughout the county. These processes used the older, larger trees and produced extensive waste or left over material, ideal for making wood pulp from which paper is produced.
John James Herb can be considered the pioneer and founder of the paper industry in Bellingham. Born and raised near Appleton in eastern Wisconsin on May 28, 1872, Herb, one of 10 children, began working at age 15, sweeping out a paper mill with a bramble broom. Fifteen years later, he was president of the mill. In 1912, Herb became superintendent of a new mill in Ontario where his duties also included serving as a millwright, carpenter, engineer, shipping clerk, and paper machine tender.
Fulfilling a longtime desire to go West, and start his own business, Herb in 1922 moved first to Vancouver, Wash., and then to New Westminster, British Columbia, where he founded Westminster Paper Company. Herb attracted a number of investors from Appleton, Wisc., to fund the new company, which produced sanitary tissue products.
Herb soon saw opportunity for expansion to Bellingham and in 1924 began seeking investment funds to form Pacific Paper Mills Corporation and build a paper mill in the city. At a hotel luncheon in November 1924, local businessmen and other investors excitedly purchased $35,000 of stock in Herb’s mill in 10 minutes’ time, launching the venture.
Located off Chestnut Street, on the waterfront landfill west of Cornwall, Herb’s new mill was built and opened in 1925 at a cost of $75,000. Large rolls of dry tissue pulp were imported duty free from the New Westminster facility, and converted at the Bellingham mill into smaller rolls of high-grade crepe toilet tissue, which were then wrapped and shipped. About 13,000 pounds of tissue were produced a day by the mill’s 30 employees.
Unfortunately, shortly after the company opened, a high duty fee was placed on importing the large pulp rolls, sharply reducing the mill’s profits. In response to this situation, Herb decided to manufacture a cheaper grade of toilet paper at the Bellingham mill and market it to the entire West Coast. To accomplish this, the mill was expanded and a $75,000 paper making machine was installed.
With a total cost of $150,000, the expanded mill began operation on Oct. 1, 1926. Renamed Pacific Coast Paper, the facility was the first specialty paper plant to operate on the nation’s West Coast.
To help supply Pacific Coast Paper’s need for a local supply of pulp, the San Juan Pulp Manufacturing Company was founded in 1926 by Ossian Anderson, with backing from the Morrison Lumber Mill on Cornwall Avenue. Located on five acres of landfill adjacent to the paper mill, San Juan was Bellingham’s first pulp mill, producing more than 40 tons of pulp a day using waste wood from many of Bellingham’s sawmills.
San Juan Pulp’s success led to its inclusion in the April 1929 formation of Puget Sound Pulp & Timber, a giant new conglomerate of pulp and timber companies in the Puget Sound area. Ossian Anderson, San Juan’s president, became the first president of Puget Sound Pulp & Timber and a member of the board of directors. Valued at $12 million, the new corporation began construction of a huge new pulp mill in Everett, where its headquarters were located. Included in the new corporation were extensive timber holdings in Skagit and Snohomish Counties.
During the 1930s, Puget Sound Pulp & Timber’s former San Juan pulp mill enjoyed success despite the Depression. By the early 1940s the original mill was outdated and was replaced in 1941 with a new facility having a capacity of producing 160,000 tons of pulp a year. Large crowds of Bellingham residents watched as the old boiler stack, which weighed one million pounds, was demolished with dynamite.
Following the death of Ossian Anderson in 1942, Fred Stevenot of San Francisco became the corporation’s president. Lawson Turcott of Bellingham then became executive vice president, and eventually president.
World War II introduced significant expansion to Puget Sound Pulp & Timber’s Bellingham operations with the construction of an alcohol extraction plant on the mill’s site. Built by the national Defense Plant Corporation, this plant produced ethyl alcohol from wood sugars found in the sulfite liquor left over from the pulping process.
The alcohol was then converted into synthetic rubber to be used in the war effort.
Puget Sound Pulp & Timber eventually purchased the successful plant from the government.
A booming economy following World War II brought further improvement to the Bellingham pulp mill with the addition in 1946 of a modern log debarking and chipping plant, featuring a patented hydraulic log barker developed by local engineers Erik Ekholm and Victor Haner. Known as the “Bellingham Barker,” this device was used under license in many other pulp mills in the United States and Canada.
Building on the alcohol plant’s success, Puget Sound Pulp & Timber in 1947 established a chemical laboratory at the Bellingham plant to research uses for pulp byproducts. This lab eventually became one of the largest of its type in the world, attracting a group of distinguished scientists from both America and Europe.
Chemical products developed in the Bellingham lab included vanilla flavoring, animal feeds, adhesives, tanning agents, pharmaceuticals, fuel pellets, solvents and drilling mud thinners.
Puget Sound Pulp & Timber expanded its operations to Alaska in 1951, joining with another company to construct a pulp mill at Ward Cove, near Ketchikan. Puget Sound later sold its half of the mill.
A major development in Bellingham’s pulp and paper industry came in 1958 when Puget Sound Pulp & Timber acquired J.J. Herb’s Pacific Coast Paper Mills. Pacific Coast’s adjacent tissue mill, always a large consumer of Puget Sound’s pulp, now became a part of Puget Sound’s operation. Herb, president of Pacific Coast until succeeded by his son Francis in 1944, was chairman of the company’s board at the time of the sale.
He subsequently served on Puget Sound’s board of directors until his death on March 1, 1959.
Between 1960 and 1963, Puget Sound Pulp & Timber pursued a course of expansion by acquisition of other companies. These purchases included Hopper Paper with plants in Illinois and Pennsylvania and Gould Paper in New York state. Bellingham’s Columbia Valley Lumber, a successor to Bloedel –Donovan Lumber Mills, with a retail lumberyard on Cornwall Avenue near the pulp mill, was purchased in 1961 and closed in the 1980s.
The end for Puget Sound Pulp & Timber as an independent corporation came on July 2, 1963, when the company was merged into Georgia-Pacific Corporation, a southern wood products company founded in 1927 that expanded into the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s and 1950s.
Georgia-Pacific continued to operate the pulp mill until closing in May 2001 due to changes in pulp markets. The company’s tissue mill, carrying on the legacy of J.J. Herb’s Pacific Coast Paper, continues to operate on Bellingham’s waterfront in 2005.