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Nibroc paper towels. Courtesy photo.




One wipes dry
Rolling out the first paper towels

10/09/14
By Hippo Staff news@hippopress.com



Don’t you hate it when you wash your hands in the bathroom only to discover there is nothing clean to dry them with? So did William E. Corbin, the man credited with inventing paper towels. 

William E. Corbin, born in Charlestown, moved to Berlin in 1892 to work at the Brown Company’s Riverside Pulp Mill. The 23-year-old made the move to the North Country paper mill so he could up his pay from $2.50 to $3 a day, according to Raymond Daigle, mill historian and author of Berlin Mills on the Androscoggin River.
Corbin started as a machine tender and worked his way to becoming superintendent in 1894. When the new Cascade Mill in Gorham was built in 1904, Brown Co. made Corbin its new general manager.
It was the men’s bathroom in the Cascade Mill that inspired the creation of paper towels. At the time, the option for drying one’s freshly washed hands was a cotton towel attached to a rod that rolled for continual use without falling on the floor. 
“It was always dirty and greasy and [Corbin] was sick and tired of that,” Daigle said.
To solve the issue, Corbin requested that creped Kraft tire wrap, made at Riverside Mill, be sent over to Cascade. Kraft paper, Daigle explained, is what today’s grocery store paper bags are made of. Riverside Mill began making it in 1919.
Corbin put the thin Kraft paper on a rod so he could rip off a piece to dry his hands. The single-use paper towels were a hit in the mill. The company’s R&D team improved the absorbency and strength of the Kraft paper and Arvid Ek, head of the sales department at Brown Co., applied for a patent. It was granted it in 1920. 
In honor of his clean idea, the new paper product was called Nibroc Paper Towels (“Nibroc” is Corbin spelled backward). 
“It was something new. … It caught on and people in town got used to it and the word spread,” Daigle said. 
At first, the light brown paper towels were only used in mills, garages and hospitals, Daigle said. It was during the 1922 Graphic Art Exposition in Boston that Nibroc Kraft Paper Towels were introduced by Brown Co. to the public for home use with the slogan “One Wipes Dry.” 
 
As seen in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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