Elis Olsson (1880-1949)
1995 Paper Industry International Hall of Fame Inductee
West Point, Virginia, U.S.A.
Mr. Olsson was born in Sweden in 1880. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from the Technical College of Orebro in 1899. Additional professional fields of specialization included management and forest management. Between 1906 and 1918, he worked for West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company, Union Bag Paper Company, Oxford Paper Company, and Brompton Pulp & Paper Company.
Always interested in the possibilities of making pulp from the plentiful and inexpensive southern woods, Mr. Olsson had successfully experimented using his own methods. In 1918, he persuaded others to join him in organizing Chesapeake Corporation in West Point, Virginia. It was the first successful kraft mill in the south, both operationally and financially. Between 1921 and 1935, Mr. Olsson was granted five patents.
Mr. Olsson played a major role in introducing the sulfate pulpmaking process to the United States; he held several U.S. patents concerning the process. Several processes he developed were introduced at Chesapeake’s mill, including the use of waste by-products for generating high pressure steam and electric power.
Under his direction, Chesapeake’s mill was completely redesigned. He added state-of-the-art equipment, much of which was new to the pulp and paper industry in this county, including one of the first Kamyr pulp-drying machines installed in the U.S. (which created 4’x4′ sheets of dried virgin pulp). In 1930, a 242-inch wide Fourdrinier paper manufacturing machine was installed — it was the largest and most modern in the world.
During Mr. Olsson’s tenure, Chesapeake achieved the distinction of being one of two pulp mills in the country to earn enough to pay income tax in 1931 and 1932. Pulp production of less than 20 tons per day and assets of $504,825 in 1918 grew to 700 tons per day and assets over $33,000,000 in 1959.
Mr. Olsson achieved international stature among the innovators and engineers of the sulfate pulpmaking process. His grasp of industry problems and willingness to share his knowledge in the effort to overcome them frequently found Mr. Olsson serving his peers as a consultant. His contributions advanced the art of papermaking for over half a century and helped revolutionize the industry. In recognition of his highly-significant accomplishments and contributions to his native Sweden, H.M. King Gustav V bestowed on him the honors of Knight of the Royal Order of Vasa in 1941 and Commander, Second Class, Royal Order of Vasa in 1949.
In 1944, Mr. Olsson was credited with founding the Fourdrinier Kraft Board Institute, which immensely improved the standards, market research, and statistical reporting of the industry. He was one of the leaders who successfully established the Southern Kraft Board Industry. Mr. Olsson was also instrumental in founding Southern Pulpwood Conservation Association; Virginia Forest, Inc. (now The Virginia Forestry Association); American Forest Products Industries; American Society of Swedish Engineers; Swedish Engineering Society; and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.
Long before the issue became critical, Mr. Olsson was concerned about the future supply of pulpwood. Forest management practices were established in 1915 and a seed nursery began in 1916. As early as 1922, Chesapeake began the policy of leaving seed trees to ensure natural reproduction on cut over company land. Mr. Olsson was personally interested in forest management and planted pines on the property of his home. It became a showplace of forest management, as well as a laboratory for experimentation by Chesapeake.