Johann Matthaus Voith was born on April 29, 1803 in Heidenheim, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. Growing up in his father’s house, he learned the family’s traditional locksmithing trade. Voith took over the family business at the age of twenty two upon the death of his father. At the time, the Voith locksmith workshop employed only five people.
In 1830, Voith participated in the construction of a paper machine for the Rau and Voelter paper mill in Heidenheim. In 1837 he collaborated with paper makers Heinrich Voelter and Son, with the goal of obtaining a paper machine. Their petition for the machine proved successful, and while Voelter procured the machine parts, Voith completed its assembly. In 1848, Voith and Voelter again partnered with the ambitious goal of producing paper as a bulk commodity, together building the first wood milling machine.
With the growing paper industry facing a shortage of rags for pulping, it soon became imperative to find a new raw material for pulp. In the mid 1800s Friedrich Gottlob Keller began experimenting with wood as a new source of pulp. However, his fledgling efforts resulted in uneven, splintery pulp. Using Keller’s methods as inspiration, Voith designed new grinding machines that would result in fewer wood shavings polluting the pulp. Collaborating with Voelter, Voith created grinders that yielded higher pulp outputs, improving factory efficiency. However, Voith’s new grinders still produced a heavily splintered wood pulp. To remedy this, Voith invented a new process for refining wood splinters based on a milling technique he observed in a chalk factory. The result was a refiner with sharp grindstones that would be placed between the screening cylinders in a mill, which would create a higher quality wood pulp. Voith’s innovations revolutionized the paper industry by producing higher quality, marketable wood pulp as a new raw material for industrial paper products.
Voith was both an inventor of key technology for producing paper pulp from wood and the founder of the company that has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of paper making equipment.
Voith also exercised his talent for industrial designing in creating his own water wheels, pumps, and water turbines, all of which were made in a foundry built next to his workshop. His son, Friedrich, joined Voith’s company in 1864, which was soon expanded into a machine factory. The J.M. Voith Company was officially formed on January 1, 1867. In the same year, the elder Voith turned over his company to his son, Friedrich.
Johann Matthaeus Voith married Johanna Mundigel on April 22, 1833 and together had four children, Johanna, Christian (who died shortly after birth), Catharina, and Friedrich. Johann Matthaeus Voith died on April 22, 1874.