The Continental Paper Bag Company. Submitted photo


By Dave Gawtry & Nghia Ha,
Rumford Area Historical Society

The Continental Paper Bag Company was incorporated on May 28, 1899, and the first factory building at Rumford Falls was started in August of the same year.
Then the Elsas Paper Company of New York was merged into the new corporation at Rumford Falls, and business was carried on in New York, while work at the Rumford Falls factory progressed rapidly.
In the spring of 1900, the new Bag Factory at Rumford Falls was started; in December of 1900, the bag machines from the New York plant were shipped to Rumford Falls and put in place beside the ones already in operation here.
The population of Rumford Falls was increased by the arrival of many of the workmen from New York with their families. The mill had paper bag and envelope machines and a printing area.

The original factory was soon too small, large as it was, to accommodate a constantly growing business, and a great warehouse was built in 1902 with over 100,000 square feet of floor space. At the same time, a railroad track was laid between the factory and the warehouse, permitting the loading of as many as 22 cars at one time.

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

In a 1981 meeting of the Rumford Historical Society, chaired by Virginia Weston, many of the former mill employees were present. Jim Arsenault went to work in the printing department of the mill in 1918. He told the audience that they printed labels of all types, from soap wrappers to whiskey labels, and sheets of Christmas wrap. Many colors were used and trimmers cut labels to size.
Arsenault said the labels and wrappers were sent throughout the U.S and to foreign countries as well.


Emma Poirier, Rose Daigle, Lena Cloutier, Florence Kelly and Mary MacDonald also worked in the mill. Many of the women worked at the mill while still in their teens.
Adeline Gallant recalled the mill closing so the women could go see the men leave to enlist in the Army during World War I. Amie Rancourt of Mexico went to work in the mill at the age of “not quite 15 years.” Germaine Thomas of Dixfield remembers receiving 35 cents per hour. Ossie Hill described working as a label boy in the printing department.

Every kind of paper bag called for was produced: from the tiny bag in which a few ounces of candy can be dropped, to the great banana bag which will hold a complete fruit branch of the banana tree. These bags were made in three different departments, on machines turning a roll of paper into bags at the rate of 300 bags per minute. Each machine made bags of various sizes.

The Flat Bag Department made bags for flour, groceries, clothing, confectioneries, and bread in more than 35 different sizes and more than 20 brands. The Satchel Bottom Bag Department produced bags used for small groceries, sugar, coffee and tea, flour, charcoal, poultry sacks, nail and shot bags, bananas, and also bottle bags.
They represented an assortment of about 30 sizes and over 50 different brands. The Square Bag Department manufactured a bag having a double fold on each side giving the bag, when filled, a more square shape. These bags were manufactured in about 20 different sizes and the same number of brands. They were mainly used for the grocery, fruit trade, and butcher business.

The great paper bag manufacturer employed hundreds of young women, and many of them came to Rumford Falls from their homes throughout New England and surrounding towns. They had to be accommodated with boarding houses, and the management decided that they must live as well as work under the best possible conditions.
The Continental Houses were built for the accommodation of this class of the employees and were models of their kind. They were, as far as possible, real homes, supplied with home comforts, and adapted to the wants of the occupants. The idea was to make the boarding houses social centers, and to surround them with the most elevating influence.

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

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

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