September 23

Benjamin Franklin, in his role as entrepreneur, inserted in the columns of his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, on this day in 1742 an advertisement on behalf of his friend William Parks, the pioneer printer of Virginia: “An honest and diligent Person, that is capable of building a good Paper-mill, and another that understands the Making of Paper, are wanted to undertake and carry on that Business in a neighboring Colony. Any such Persons that want Employment, will meet with a Person who will give good Encouragement, if they apply to the Printer of this Paper on the 25th Instant.”

A Pennsylvania papermaker, Johan Conrad Schütz, applied for the job. Later he went down to Williamsburg, where he constructed the first paper mill in the state of Virginia. He returned home early in 1744, presumably having taught the local people the craft. Having the mill, however, did not assure Parks of a continuous supply of paper to be used in his printing operations. The problem which plagued his mill was the lack of rags with which to make the paper. Franklin, of course, was ready to supply these, at the standard rate of exchange, which was 4d a pound for “Fine pick’t rags,” and 1½d for the ordinary variety. In a four-year period Franklin sold to Parks over eleven thousand pounds of rags at these prices, part of which was paid for by the production of the mill.

In an attempt to secure a local supply, Parks inserted the following Ode in his own newspaper, the Virginia Gazette, issue of July 26, 1744:

“Tho’ sage Philosophers have said,
Of nothing, can nothing be made;
Yet much thy Mill, O Parks brings forth
From what we reckon nothing worth. . . .
(And long that gen’rous Patriot live
Who for soft Rags, hard Cash will give!). . . .
Ye Fair, renown’d in Cupid’s Field,
Who fain would tell what Hearts you’ve killed;
Each Shift decay’d, lay by with care;
Or Apron rubb’d to bits at—Pray’r,
One Shift ten Sonnets may contain,
To gild your Charms, and make you vain;
One Cap, a Billet-doux may shape,
As full of Whim, as when a Cap,
And modest ‘Kerchiefs Sacred held
May sing the Breasts they once conceal’d.”

Evidently this plea in verse did not have the results which Printer Parks expected. In this respect his position was no different from that of any of the other colonial papermakers, as the difficulty of securing rags was one of the hazards of the craft.

Leave a Reply