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date: 15 December 2018


A New Dictionary of Eponyms

Morton S. Freeman


Paper is often called “the handmaiden of civilization.” It is important as a keeper of records because it is the material on which manuscripts, books, magazines, and newspapers are written or printed. The tools of the financial system-money, checks, drafts, notes, stocks-are also made of paper.

Much of the paper used today is made by a fourdrinier machine, a name derived from its inventors. The machine, whose length can reach three hundred feet, forms a wet mass of fibers into a sheet. The first part, called the wet end, is made of a wire-cloth belt on which the fibers are allowed to mat into the form of a sheet. The sheet is then dried as it passes over suction boxes, and is then squeezed between heavy press rolls and passed over steam-heated drier cylinders. The paper passes through calendar (a variant form of “cylinder”) presses where a smooth surface is put on the sheet. Finally, it is wound into large paper rolls, a continuous sheet of any desired size.

Henry Fourdrinier, with the help of his brother, Sealy, invented the machine and had it patented in 1807. They spent thirty years perfecting it. After all that time, they received a partial grant from the British Parliament that enabled them to recoup their expenses.

The Fourdrinier—in principle—has been in operation ever since it was patented. The automatic machine is still used although the Fourdrinier brothers might be hard put to recognize its modern version.