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Corrugated and Containerboard History: Part Three

By Ralph Young

March 20, 2024

Over 10 years ago, we published a trilogy of articles highlighting the last 50–70 years of our industry. As your Association prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in April in Palm Desert, California, we wanted to remind everyone where we came from. Our current chairman, Matt Davis, has said, “We need to embrace and honor the past. Remember the independent advantage!”

Macon Kraft

In 1986, Richard Pratt bought this 1948 vintage mill in Georgia as his first step into the U.S. market. Pratt had bought the mill from the dissolved Georgia Kraft Corp. In May 1992, Riverwood International bought the assets of this 525,000-ton-per-year Georgia mill from Pratt Industries. Riverwood was owned by Manville Corp. and ultimately joined with Graphic Packaging in 2003. The conversion of one of the linerboard machines to coated kraft cartonboard for beverage carrier and folding carton applications made this operation attractive to Graphic Packaging, formerly Coors Paper Packaging.

Georgia Kraft Corp.

This was a joint venture of Inland Container and Mead Corp. This first mill (Macon Kraft) was to produce linerboard. As the economy continued to expand after World War II, a second mill was finished in Rome, Georgia, in 1954. In 1985, this venture was dissolved, with Inland becoming the sole owner of the Rome mill.

Bell Packaging/Bell Fibre

Bell Packaging was started with a box plant in Marion, Indiana, in 1917 by George Bell and sold to Pratt/Visy by his grandson, John Bell, in 1997, with assets consisting of three full combiner corrugated plants in Marion, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Menominee, Michigan, mill (acquired from American Can in 1974).

The Bell Fibre name was changed to Bell Packaging Corp. in the late 1980s.

Pratt/Visy sold the Menominee mill to Cellu Tissue a year later after shutting the No. 1 liner machine. Clearwater continues to operate No. 2 PM bleached MG paper and waxed converting. Visy wanted the box plants but closed Chicago and Marion within three years and may still operate Grand Rapids, possibly only as a sheet plant.

Lin Pac Inc.

It started in the United States by acquiring United Container in Philadelphia. It has been said it started the first sheet feeder in the U.S. in 1980 in Atlanta.

In 2003, Montagu Private Equity acquired Lin Pac USA. In October 2006, the operations were purchased by Dennis Mehiel’s Mannkraft Corp. This included the mill, three sheet feeders, a corrugated box plant, and a display operation.

The Cowpens 250-tons-per-day mill started in March 1992 with the mini mill concept of being close to the customers and using 100% OCC. Named Somerset Fibre, it is now owned by Kapstone.

MacMillan Bathurst

Stone Container bought a 50% interest in MacMillan Bathurst from MacMillan Bloedel. (You need a scorecard to keep the players separated on this one.) They immediately resold the entity to Jefferson Smurfit Group.

MacMillan Bathurst was formed in 1983 as a partnership of MacMillan Bloedel and Consolidated Bathurst. Stone acquired its 50% interest in 1989 when it bought Consolidated Bathurst. It had 12 corrugated plants and produced 450,000 metric tons per year of containerboard.

Southwest Forest Industries

Stone Container bought this company in January 1987, giving it a presence in this geographical area of the U.S. The acquisition included mills in Snowflake, Arizona, and Panama City, Florida, as well as 19 corrugated plants and several other nonpackaging assets.

Pineville Kraft

This independent two-machine linerboard mill was built in 1968 and acquired by International Paper (IP) in 1979. The mill was closed in late 2010.

Alton Box Board

Jefferson Smurfit Corp. first bought a segment of Alton Box Board in 1979, then fully acquired the company in 1981. It was the Irish company’s first acquisition in the United States.

Smurfit saw its greatest potential in the U.S. market, where there have never been tight restrictions on foreign ownership or investment. Smurfit’s method, a relatively cautious one, was to purchase a minority holding of a U.S. company, observe its profits rising, and then move to 100% ownership. Thus, the 27% holding in Alton Box Board Co. in 1979 formed the bridgehead for complete acquisition in 1981.

Olin Kraft/Olin Mathieson

While none of us were around in the beginning, Brown Paper Co. in West Monroe, Louisiana, in 1923 built the first kraft paper and linerboard using southern pine fiber. Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp. bought the company in 1955. After Olin’s initial ownership, the mill was bought by Johns Manville, then Riverwood International, and finally Graphic Packaging.

Canadian International Paper

This was the Canadian primary manufacturing arm of IP and consisted of seven mills, only two of which were involved in the production of containerboard. It was sold to Canadian Pacific Forest Products
in the early 1980s, which became Avenor in 1994 and was then bought by Bowater in 1998.

Ralph Young is the principal of Alternative Paper Solutions and is AICC’s technical advisor. Contact Ralph directly about technical issues that impact our industry at

Sources: Personal knowledge from employment, media articles over 40 years, Corrugated Shipping Container: An Engineering Approach, annual reports, 10Ks, industry technical committees, interviews, personal relationships, and Wikipedia.