Continental Paper Bag Company History

The mainland paper bag company. Photo submitted

By Dave Gawtry & Nghia Ha,
Rumford Area Historical Society

The Continental Paper Bag Company was incorporated on May 28, 1899, and the first factory in Rumford Falls began in August of that year.
Then the Elsas Paper Company of New York was merged with the new Rumford Falls company, and business continued in New York, while work at the Rumford Falls mill progressed rapidly.
In the spring of 1900, the new bag factory in Rumford Falls was launched; in December 1900, bagging machines from the New York factory were shipped to Rumford Falls and set up alongside those already in use here.
The population of Rumford Falls was increased by the arrival of many workers from New York with their families. The factory had paper bag and envelope machines and a printing area.

The original factory was soon too small, however large, to accommodate an ever-growing business, and a large warehouse was built in 1902 with over 100,000 square feet of floor space. At the same time, a railway track was laid between the factory and the warehouse, allowing the loading of 22 wagons at a time.

The Continental Paper Bag Company, with 190 machines, had a production capacity of 17 to 20 million paper bags every 10 hours and consumed about 120 tons of paper per day. It employed over 700 men, women and boys. The printing department alone employed more than 100 employees.

At a 1981 meeting of the Rumford Historical Society, chaired by Virginia Weston, many former factory employees were present. Jim Arsenault went to work in the factory’s printing department in 1918. He told the public that they printed labels of all types, from soap wrappers to whiskey labels, and Christmas wrapping sheets . Many colors were used and the tailors cut the labels to size.
Arsenault said labels and packaging are also being sent to the United States and overseas.

Emma Poirier, Rose Daigle, Lena Cloutier, Florence Kelly and Mary MacDonald also worked at the mill. Many women worked in the factory when they were still teenagers.
Adeline Gallant recalled the closing of the mill so that the women could go and see the men leaving to enlist in the army during the First World War. Amie Rancourt from Mexico went to work in the mill when she was “not quite 15”. Germaine Thomas of Dixfield remembers being paid 35 cents an hour. Ossie Hill described working as a tag boy in the print department.

All types of paper bags requested have been produced: from the small bag in which a few ounces of sweets can be deposited, to the large banana bag which will contain a complete fruit branch of the banana tree. These bags were manufactured in three different departments, on machines transforming a roll of paper into bags at the rate of 300 bags per minute. Each machine made bags of different sizes.

The flat bag department manufactured bags for flour, groceries, clothing, confectionery and bread in over 35 different sizes and over 20 brands. The Satchel Bottom Bag department produces bags for small groceries, sugar, coffee and tea, flour, charcoal, poultry bags, nail and shot bags, bananas, but also bottle bags.
They represented an assortment of about 30 sizes and more than 50 different brands. The square bag department has made a bag that has a double pleat on each side giving the bag, when filled, a more square shape. These bags were made in about 20 different sizes and the same number of brands. They were mainly used for groceries, the fruit trade and butchery.

The large paper bag maker employed hundreds of young women, and many of them came to Rumford Falls from their homes across New England and surrounding towns. They were to be housed in boarding houses, and the management decided that they should live as well as work in the best possible conditions.
Continental houses were built for the accommodation of this class of servants and were models of their kind. They were, as far as possible, real dwellings, provided with the comforts of a home and adapted to the needs of the occupants. The idea was to make the boarding schools into social centers, and to surround them with the most uplifting influence.

The Continental Paper Bag Company operated successfully until the depression of the 1930s. The Oxford Paper Co. acquired the mill properties in December 1936, along with the water rights from the Continental Paper Bag Company.

Sources:
Continental Paper Bag Company Press, 1905
H. Schedler Photo Engraving, New York
Kiesling Bros. Press, New York

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