William Rittenhouse

Wilhelm Rittinghausen, born in 1644, learned the papermaking trade in Mulheim, Germany, while working at his uncle Mathias Vorster’s mill. The two men later went to Holland, where they were employed in a Gelderland mill near Arnhem. In 1688, Mr. Rittinghausen, by now a Dutch citizen, emigrated to British North America and changed his name to William Rittenhouse. In 1690, he established a paper mill on the Monoshone Creek near Germantown, which is now Philadelphia. Joining him in the venture were three partners, Robert Turner, Thomas Tresse, and a printer named William Bradford.

Mr. Rittenhouse’s knowledge and skill played a major role in this courageous undertaking. His ability to organize financial backers as partners and a printer-partner as a contractual customer for the products led to an expedient and successful enterprise. Previous to this operation, all paper was imported from Europe and taxed accordingly. The new mill provided a local source of printing, writing, and wrapping paper, as well as pasteboard. Mr. Rittenhouse could well be called America’s father of recycling, since all of the mill’s fiber for hand papermaking was obtained from discarded rags and cotton.

In 1706, Mr. Rittenhouse bought out the other partners and became sole proprietor of Rittenhouse Paper Mill. He, and later his son, Claus, trained and developed a versatile work force to produce good products. This eventually led to starting up additional mills in Pennsylvania. Mr. Rittenhouse proved that papermaking in America could be a viable, economically sound business. Thus began the saga a vital and dynamic industry that fulfilled a significant role in America’s growth.

Mr. Rittenhouse died in 1708 and left the paper mill to his son, Claus. The business prospered at the site, and was operated by six generations of family descendants. For twenty years, Rittenhouse Paper Mill was the only paper mill in the Colonies. In 1710, William Dewees, who was married to Claus Rittenhouse’s sister, built a mill nearby in Chestnut Hill, having learned the trade at Rittenhouse Paper Mill. In 1729, the Willcox Ivey Mill was built in Chester County.

Forty years after the founding of Rittenhouse Paper Mill, the number of printers and paper mills grew exponentially. The Rittenhouse family monopoly in paper was over, but Mr. Rittenhouse’s descendants continued making paper on the Monoshone Creek until the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, when the development of the Fourdrinier, with its endless web and cylinder papermaking, changed the industry forever.