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Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CLACKAMAS COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The original Mill A in 1889.Willamette Falls is, by volume, the second largest waterfall in the United States. And while height may make for spectacular postcards, volume means power.

Lots of it.

In the mid-1800s, water power brought settlement and industry to our area. In 1866, the first effort at papermaking in Oregon started at Willamette Falls. While that project ended in foreclosure, an idea had been planted; Oregon was destined to make paper.

Papermaking returned when the Willamette Falls Pulp and Paper Company made its first groundwood pulp on October 7, 1889. Soon 20 tons of pulp, produced by four water-powered grinders, were being shipped every day to a sister mill in California.

Papermaking from wood pulp was hard and messy. Logs were floated to the mill where they were cut into short chunks or “bolts.” The bolts went to the grinder room, where they were hand fed into a rotating sandstone grinder. They were literally chewed up and mixed to form watery slurry that was the raw material to make paper.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: WEST LINN PAPER COMPANY - A worker loads the grinder, circa 1950

Groundwood pulp would continue for decades but, almost simultaneously with the mill’s opening, work also began on a sulfite mill — a chemical process that breaks down wood into fibers. Sulfite mills (also called “digesters”) require less work and produce a higher grade of fiber. The sulfite mill at Willamette Falls is one of the first on the West Coast.

Willamette Pulp and Paper Company installed its first paper machine so the mill could turn its pulp into paper on site, rather than having to ship pulp to Stockton. The mill produced newsprint that was shipped to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and as far away as Australia and China.

Just a month after Willamette Pulp & Paper began, Crown Paper Company opened next to it. The plants grew side-by-side, adding machines and capacity. In 1898 Willamette Pulp & Paper installed a paper machine that was the fastest of its day, and also among the first to be operated by electricity.

In 1914, Crown-Columbia and Willamette joined to become the Crown-Willamette Pulp and Paper Company. In 1928, Crown-Willamette announced it would merge with the Zellerbach Corporation. It would take nine years to complete the complex merger. Crown-Zellerbach was mammoth, producing 1,450 tons of paper daily, second in the United States.

In 1947, Crown-Zellerbach pioneered making coated paper in West Linn. The process relies upon a mixture of clay and carbonate to create a smooth surface ideal for high-quality printing. This was arguably the most important technological improvement made at the West Linn mill.

By the 1950s, the Crown-Zellerbach mill at West Linn was among the largest employers in Oregon, with 1,400 workers operating ten paper machines, producing pulp in both groundwood and sulfite. Crown-Zellerbach’s yearly payroll was nearly $6 million, the equivalent of $82 million today.

In 1986, the James River Corporation purchased the mill. In 1990, the groundwood operation ended. Using outside pulp sources, the mill continued to produce high-quality, coated papers, but improved technology and increased competition led to significant reductions in the workforce. In 1996, the mill closed briefly but, in 1997, it reopened under new ownership as the West Linn Paper Company.

Today, West Linn Paper Company operates three paper machines and daily produces 750 tons of coated paper. New technology and skilled employees have allowed the mill to double its production since startup with a workforce of less than 250 employees.

West Linn Paper is the sole survivor in a long line of paper making that began at West Linn in 1889. The company is proud of its heritage, its role in the community, and the employees that are the heart of its business.

This is an excerpt from the introduction to West Linn Paper’s 125th anniversary photo book. See the full version at

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