George H. Tomlinson was born on June 19, 1880, son of R. H. Tomlinson of Toronto, Ontario. He received his BA in 1901 from Trinity College in Toronto and, in 1946, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from the Bishop’s University.
Tomlinson held executive positions as Director of Research at Riorden Pulp and Paper Company, and Technical Director of Research and Vice President at Howard Smith Paper Company.
Tomlinson’s invention of the chemical recovery furnace in 1932 was critical in advancing the Kraft pulping process to the dominant wood pulping method that it is today. His revolutionary invention recovered the heat value of waste organic material in black liquor while reducing sulfur to sulfide and collecting the sulfide and sodium in a molten sodium carbonate smelt.
Within 10 years, the superior economic advantages of the Tomlinson furnace (particularly the recovery of heat as steam needed to heat digesters, paper dryers, etc.) and the fact that it efficiently recycled pulping chemicals enabled the Kraft process to overtake the sulfite process in production tonnage. Many improvements have been made to Tomlinson’s initial design, but many of its basic features remain unchanged.
Tomlinson’s success with the recovery process should not overshadow his successes as a wood chemist and research leader. In 1908, as an early career scientist working with the Ewen brothers of Chicago, he developed a process to produce ethyl alcohol from wood waste. Commercial plants were built in South Carolina and Louisiana, with the South Carolina plant operated by the DuPont de Nemours Powder Company. As with the recovery furnace invented 24 years later, the wood-to-alcohol plants were based on a detailed understanding of both commercial and chemical process requirements.
As Technical Director of Research at Howard Smith Paper Company, Tomlinson was involved in developing commercial methods to separate lignin from black liquor, use lignin to produce a laminated panel called Arborite, and collect vanillin from sulfite pulping liquors. His research also led to the development of the magnesium-based sulfite pulping process. In addition to many others, he has three key US Patents dealing with the Tomlinson process.
In 1948, Tomlinson was awarded the Canada Medal of the Society of Chemical Industry of England for his outstanding contributions to the Chemical Industry in Canada. In 1951, he received the nineteenth TAPPI Medal.
George Tomlinson died in Montreal on August 2, 1958. He and his wife had five children.