1881 William Vansittart Bowater went into business in the City of London as a paper wholesaler and as an agent for the purchase of newsprint on behalf of newspaper publishers.
Three of William Bowater's five sons joined him in partnership; the firm was renamed W. V. Bowater and Sons.
1913 The head of the firm, Thomas Vansittart Bowater, left the running of the family business to his younger brothers when he became Lord Mayor of London. The company moved into large-scale dealing in waste paper, including the export of surplus newspapers to the Far East, where they were used for the protection of young tea plants.
1914 These years also saw the commencement of the export of newsprint to Australia, leading to the establishment of a US marketing subsidiary, Hudson Packaging and Paper Company, in 1914, and an office in Sydney, Australia, in 1919. These were the first steps in Bowater's development into a multinational corporation.
1925 Their first paper mill, at Northfleet, was brought into operation.
1927 Eric Bowater became chairman and managing director; he was the leading figure in the firm for the following three and a half decades.
1936 He purchased paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley from Lloyd Group, which doubled the firm's output of newsprint to around 500,000 tons per annum. In little more than a decade since the start of manufacturing, Bowater was producing 60 percent of British newsprint and had become the largest newsprint undertaking in Europe.
1938 The company purchased the massive mill at Corner Brook, Newfoundland's most important industrial undertaking with newsprint capacity of 200,000 tons per year and resources of 7,000 square miles of timber land. These moves were described by Eric Bowater as a "raw material insurance policy."
1944 Since a rapid revival of demand for newsprint appeared unlikely postwar, Sir Eric Bowater adopted a policy of diversification into paper packaging which began with the purchase of Acme Corrugated Cases in 1944.
1947 These interests were organized into a wholly owned subsidiary, Associated Bowater Industries. The war had much less impact upon Bowater's North American operations, and from 1944 to 1950 US consumption almost doubled. A streamlined structure was instituted, in which a number of wholly owned operating companies reported to a holding company which was given a new name, the Bowater Paper Corporation.
For Sir Eric Bowater the formation of the Bowater Paper Corporation marked a new point of departure. Over the ensuing decade and a half he worked tirelessly to build up the business on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, the strategy of diversification away from newsprint continued through the late 1940s and early 1950s with further acquisitions of paper products firms.
In North America, by contrast, the relentless rise in U.S. demand for newsprint led to the construction of a paper mill at Calhoun, Tennessee, marking the firm's debut as a producer in the United States.
1954 Self-sufficiency was taken a step further by the formation of the firm's own shipping fleet.
By the mid-1950s Bowater was the largest producer of newsprint in the world, a position Bowater had no intention of relinquishing.
1955 Diversification continued to be an objective in the United Kingdom, leading to expansion of the building products and packaging activities and most importantly to entry into the rapidly growing tissue market through the acquisition of the St. Andrews tissue mill.
1956 In the United Kingdom, the end of government paper control inspired a resurgence of optimism regarding demand for newsprint, and further capacity was added at Kemsley and on Merseyside. The Bowater-Scott Corporation was formed, a company jointly owned by Bowater Corporation and the market leader in tissue technology, the Scott Paper Company of Philadelphia.
Continental Europe was believed to offer tremendous growth potential and the late 1950s saw the establishment of a Bowater presence in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. The firm also became the largest newsprint maker in France, with the acquisition of the Les Papeteries de la Chapelle works with a capacity of 180,000 tons.
1959 Bowater entered a joint venture to produce pulp and newsprint in New Zealand to supply the Australian market. This extensive expansion programme required substantial funding and Bowater's borrowings increased greatly.
By the beginning of the 1960s, it was plain that Bowater's strategy was flawed. Other competitors had made substantial investments in newsprint capacity and from 1957 the market was oversupplied, causing prices to weaken and profits to disappear.
Although the expansion programme was curtailed, the firm was already heavily burdened with debt and the advance into Europe continued to absorb capital. Matters were made worse by production problems at the new American Catawba pulp mill and by the move to prestigious new headquarters in London's Knightsbridge in 1958, which doubled per capita office costs.
1962 The death of Sir Eric Bowater in August, in the midst of the financial crisis marked the end of an era in the history of Bowater.
1962-72 Retrenchment was a hallmark of Bowater's strategy in this decade.
Over capacity in U.K. newsprint was tackled by the conversion of machines to other types of paper making, and eventually by closures, including Northfleet in 1973. Overall, the reduction in capacity in the United Kingdom and North America by 1972 totalled 300,000 tons. In Europe, where the business had never lived up to Bowater's expectations, there was wholesale retreat, culminating in the sale of the loss-making French company.
Diversification away from newsprint was the other side of the strategy, with successful expansion in areas of activity such as building products in the United Kingdom, and tissue production in both the United Kingdom and Australia.
1982 Bowater Scott Corporation Ltd, of Tissue Mill, Crete Hall Road, Northfleet, was a subsidiary of Bowaters
1984 Bowaters demerged its the North American newsprint and pulp operations as Bowater Inc. The rest of the group was renamed Bowater Industries
1986 Tissue manufacturing was the firm's foremost activity in Australia, following the acquisition of Scott's 50 percent interest in Bowater-Scott of Australia in 1986, in return for the sale of Bowater's interest in Bowater-Scott's UK firm to Scott Paper.
Sources of Information
- The Times June 3, 1957
- The Times, Jun 16, 1973