We use paper every day. Even in this digital world paper is still sometimes necessary for communication and business transactions. But before the computer era, everything had to be done on paper, calculations, business transactions, letters, checks, and a myriad of other things. But what exactly is that medium itself? How has it changed?
Most paper today is made from wood pulp, but that isn’t the only source of paper. Many fibrous plants make good sources of paper, including its original form, papyrus. Old paper can also be used to create new paper, this process of recycling has gained prominence in recent decades, but it has been done to some extent for several hundred years.
When the first banks in this country were founded, the technology to make paper by machine had not yet been invented. Wood pulp was also not yet the desired material to use. Paper was made from beating linen and cotton to a pulp, then pressing it into thin sheets by hand! The only mechanized step of the process was the creation of the pulp; men did the rest of the work. The pulp would be scooped onto a metal screen mold, pressed into felt, a press squeezed out excess water, and the paper was hung to dry. All this before you even wrote a check or a note!
A machine for making paper, known as the Fourdrinier machine, became available in 1803, although it would take several decades for paper mills to fully mechanize. The first machine became available in the U.S. in 1827. Also around this time wood became the main source of paper instead of fabric rags. These two changes in paper technology made paper cheaper, and more readily available, greatly increasing its use around the world. See one here.
Wells Fargo has recycled its paper since at least 1886! (For more information see this older Guided by History post). For making checks, Wells Fargo experimented with paper made from bagasse (byproduct of sugar cane milling) in the 1970’s, and changed to recycled paper in 1991. For more information see this older post.
Today Wells Fargo offers customers options to use less paper, such as online banking, mobile banking and Envelope FreeSM ATMs.