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Herty wrote a new chapter in the ancient craft inspired by insects who built paper nests while dinosaurs still roamed the earth.At its root, however, the papermaking process remained the same: the bonding of cellulose, a polymer whose long chains support plant cell walls.
The region’s abundant pines would provide an economic boost.
"In order to give our people a living and get them out of one-room shacks, it may be desirable in the next 15 years to eat into our forest capital," he told the Savannah Morning News.
Herty built his research facility and pilot plant with funds provided by a Savannah businessman, the state of Georgia, and the Chemical Foundation, a nonprofit organization established after World War I.
He directed his new lab to make pine into the pulp that would become paper, using acidic sulfite solutions to digest the wood, remove impurities and increase the effectiveness of bleaching agents.
During a lecture in Germany 30 years earlier, Herty had heard that the sulfite process could be applied to the Tannenbaum the Germans used as Christmas trees.
Herty reasoned that, like these trees, younger pines in the southern United States would be less gummy than mature ones.Herty had saved these forests in 1903 by inventing a new method of extracting resin, used to make turpentine, that did not scar and damage the trees.Now, he turned to chemistry to address another concern: the high level of resin in the pines’ wood, which was believed to block the bleaching with acidic sulfite solutions needed to make white paper.Eventually paper eclipsed parchment and vellum, advancing literacy by making the written word lest costly and more accessible.By the mid-1400s, we began to see movable type, the printing press, and machine-produced books including the famous Gutenberg Bible in 1455.The papermakers’ demand for cotton rags outpaced the supply by the early 1700s.That was when RÉnÉ de RÉaumur, a French chemist and naturalist, is said to have reasoned that if wasps could make paper from wood, so could people.The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans first mimicked such techniques around 3,000 B. They stripped off the outer bark of papyrus — from which we derive the word "paper" — and beat the marsh plant’s soft pith to break up the fibers. The result was a tough, durable writing surface, as expensive to buy as it was labor-intensive to make.But this process did not create the chemical bonds that the wasp had achieved. The historical record describes a courtier named Ts’ai-Lun who practiced papermaking techniques in the Hunan province of China. The Arabs likely acquired the technique in the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan around A. 750 — as the story goes, they captured Chinese papermakers in battle and extracted a demonstration.For decades the prevailing wisdom held that southern pines were too gummy to be used for anything but cardboard and other brown paper.The forest and white paper industries had been built around the less sappy—and quickly dwindling—hardwoods of the northern United States and Canada.