The city of Berlin, New Hampshire, located alongside a two-mile stretch of waterfalls in the Androscoggin River, became the center of the pulp and papermaking industry in northern New England in the late 1800s. There was little economic activity in Berlin from the time it was chartered in 1829 to the 1850s. This all changed with the arrival of the railroad in Berlin in 1852, the mid-century introduction of turbine engine technology that could generate power for mills, and the availability of a new immigrant population in the United States to work in industry. The industrial enterprise that later became known as Brown Company began with the construction of a large sawmill on the Androscoggin River and rapidly expanded over the next twenty years to include chemical, pulp and papermaking mills, tracking nationwide changes in papermaking technology. The population of Berlin grew from 175 in 1850 to a peak of 21,948 in 1930 in response to the region’s expanding forest products industry.
Forest products permeate everyday life, yet they are often taken for granted or may even be “invisible.” When did we become so dependent on wood products? What are these products? How were they created? The industrial processes for converting a tree into a wide variety of wood products emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century. During this same period, Americans (and Europeans) came to believe in the idea of inevitable progress and in the ability of science and technology to promote positive change. Consequently, American universities in this Age of Progress responded to increased demands for research scientists in industry by establishing engineering disciplines. The graduates of these programs revolutionized the American manufacturing system during the next century. The pulp and papermaking mills in Berlin, New Hampshire pioneered such innovations.