William Markley Gilbert (WMG) was born on July 25, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a family with considerable papermaking experience. In 1870, at the age of 18, WMG went back to Philadelphia from Chicago to learn the paper manufacturing business from his uncle, Theodore Megargee. He married Priscilla A. Hartsook in Chicago and moved to Neenah, Wisconsin in 1882.
While young WMG was visiting paper mills in the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin, he met George A. Whiting, who was managing the Winnebago Paper Mills in Neenah. In 1880, they formed a company called Gilbert & Whiting Paper, and began construction on a new rag mill located on the west end of the canal in Menasha, Wisconsin. A few years later, WMG sold his interest to George A. Whiting.
In 1887, the Gilbert Paper Company was organized by William Gilbert Sr. in association with his four sons and a daughter with eldest son WMG as General Manager. It was built with a $100,000 initial investment and included an envelope and box factory. When William Gilbert, Sr. died in 1900, WMG became the President. Under his leadership, the Gilbert Paper Company introduced the first mechanical tub-size, air-drying machine in the industry in 1890 making the old method of pole drying obsolete. In 1894, the company was the first to make fine writing paper from a combination of wood and rag fibers; introduced the first successful revolving suction box and created the paper industry’s only patented dandy roll in 1900 that included a shaded watermark. Other firsts for Gilbert Paper included the use of opacifying agents, and mechanically localized watermarks.
WMG established the paper industry’s first quality-control laboratory, and developed unique early mechanical paper sorting devices. In 1902, Gilbert Paper is credited with developing the first cockle finish bond paper in the USA. Gilbert Paper set the national quality standard for fine writing paper for which demand was created by the popularity of the typewriter in the 1890’s and early 20th century. WMG built a network of paper merchants from Chicago to New York to develop a competitive advantage in sales and distribution leading to the sale of currency paper to the governments of Russia, China, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and U.S.A. The Gilbert Paper Company was sold to Mead Corporation in 1960 and then to Fox River Paper in 2001. The Neenah Paper Company now holds the rights to produce Gilbert Bond.
WMG was a founder of the Wisconsin Papermakers Association, a founder of the Western Book Manufacturers Association and President of the National Manufacturers Bank of Neenah, Wisconsin. Gilbert was fifty-seven years old when his wife Priscilla died in Neenah on April 17, 1909. In 1911, he married Molly Felker of Oshkosh.
William Markley Gilbert died on January 9, 1926.