Hugh J. Chisholm was born on May 2, 1847, in Chippewa, Ontario, Canada, the fifth of ten children. His formal education was cut short at age 13 when his father died and he began helping to support his family. His first job was digging potatoes, during which he had a lot of time to think. After two days, he realized there wasn’t much of a future in the fields of Ontario. A week later he had a new job selling newspapers on the sooty, red-plush trains running from Detroit to Toronto. Another boy about the same age had a similar job. He was Thomas A. Edison, who was later to become one of America’s foremost inventors. The two young men became lifelong friends. After several years as an entrepreneur, Mr. Chisholm used $50 to enroll in a night course at a Toronto business college.
Mr. Chisholm felt that the distribution of newspapers and magazines could be handled more efficiently through a business organization specifically set up for that purpose. While still in his teens, Mr. Chisholm went into partnership with his brother, Charles. They distributed newspapers on trains running from Chicago to Portland and Halifax. They soon added steamboats on the St. Lawrence River to their franchise. In a few years, they controlled newspaper and magazine distribution rights on more than 5,000 miles of rail and steamship lines and had more than 200 uniformed employees. The Chisholm brothers also began to publish tourist and souvenir travel books and America’s first postcards, which, after the simplification of photography in 1880, began featuring half-tone photographs.
Mr. Chisholm’s first venture into the field of pulp and paper was the acquisition of an early patent for making wood-fibre ware (articles made of wood fiber). This was followed by the organization of the Somerset Fibre Company at Fairfield on the Kennebec River in 1870.
In 1872, he sold his interest in the newspaper distribution business to his brother. He moved to Portland, Maine, became a United States citizen, and married Henrietta Mason. He lived the remainder of his life in Portland and New York City.
Mr. Chisholm was a visionary with talents for conceiving, designing, organizing, implementing, and managing business enterprises. Other entrepreneurial ventures between the years 1870 and 1898 included founding and serving as president for Umbagog Pulp Company; Otis Falls Pulp and Paper Co.; Livermore Falls Iron Foundry; Rumford Falls Power Company; Portland & Rumford Falls Railroad; Rumford Falls Paper Company; Rumford Falls Sulfite Company; Rumford Falls & Rangely Lakes Railroad; and subsequently, along with two associates, International Paper Company.
The formation of International Paper Company brought together 17 pulp and paper mills in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Canada. Widely considered the most powerful man of his time in the American pulp and paper industry, Mr. Chisholm was the primary founder and served as the company’s president from 1898 to 1907, and chairman until 1910. Through his energy and drive, he helped the company gain control of 60 percent of the American newsprint market. His skillful financial management enabled the company to post significant profits throughout its early years. With a daily output of 1,300 tons of paper and $45 million of capital stock, International Paper was by far the world’s largest paper manufacturer. The journey from leading a two ton per day mill to heading a 1,300 ton per day corporation is a testimonial to Mr. Chisholm’s leadership and entrepreneurial capabilities.
During his tenure, he initiated International Paper’s first forest management program. In 1901, he issued instructions forbidding the harvest of immature trees. He also forged a close relationship with Yale University’s forestry program, in which faculty and students helped the company select trees for cutting, thus paving the way for the industry standard of sustainable forest management principles.
In 1899, Mr. Chisholm opened Continental Bag Company in Rumford. Also that year, he organized a group of investors to build Oxford Paper Company for the production of high-quality paper for publication of fine books and magazines. Shortly after operations began in 1901, Oxford won a valuable contract to manufacture all the postcards used by the U.S. Post Office. The cards were produced at a rate of three million per day. Oxford’s first two paper machines produced 44 tons of paper a day. At the time of Mr. Chisholm’s death in 1912, the company had grown to an eight-machine mill producing 63,000 tons of pulp and 44,000 tons of paper annually. The venture became the largest bookpaper mill in the world under one roof.
Mr. Chisholm made tremendous personal contributions to the growth of the American paper industry through determination, a superb visionary ability, outstanding financial ingenuity, and his undying entrepreneurial spirit. He had the ability to envision, plan, and conceive business ventures and then assemble the financial resources and quality personnel to make the project successful.
With his interests in paper companies, water companies, banks, steamboats, and railroads, Mr. Chisholm was the dominant industrialist figure in Maine, as well as a true American giant of industry. Several years prior to his death, Mr. Chisholm was awarded an honorary master of arts degree from Bowdoin College; posthumously, he was honored by the American Newcomen Society in 1952.
The Chisholms raised one son, Hugh, Jr., who assumed the presidency of Oxford Paper Company in 1912. William Chisholm, the son of Hugh Chisholm, Jr., followed his father as president of the company.