Some Corrugated and Containerboard History: Part One
By Ralph Young
September 13, 2023
More than 10 years ago, we published a trilogy of the last 50–70 years of our industry. As AICC is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the Spring Meeting in April in Palm Desert, California, we wanted to remind everyone where we came from. Our incoming chairman, Matt Davis, recently said, “We need to embrace and honor the past.” Remember the independent advantage. So, for those of you who are new to this industry, we submit this legacy for you. For those of us who are veterans, a few memories:
Our industry has a rich history of single entrepreneurs, families, and partners taking risks in very local venues. The beginnings were not corporations; they were very fragmented and very independent. It might have been as simple as a straw farmer seeking a higher return on his crop (an early fiber source for medium), rather than just a feed for cattle. And he would partner with papermakers and box manufacturers that were moving out of wooden crates into corrugated “packaging.” It was only over many years that larger and more geographically focused companies came to acquire the local and regional business operations.
On August 1, 1984, Champion International Corp. and St. Regis Corp. announced jointly that they had signed a definitive agreement to merge the two big paper companies in a deal valued at $1.7 billion in cash and stock. The merger would create the nation’s biggest paper producer in terms of sales, far outstripping Georgia-Pacific Corp., the then-current leader. It would also challenge International Paper Co. for the top spot in the industry in terms of pulp and paper tonnage produced.
The St. Joe paper mill at the corporate headquarters in Florida was most profitable in the 1960s, with products being marketed directly to independents, trade partners, and company-owned box plants. However, an extended period of downtime (nine months) due to market conditions in 1996 signaled the beginning of the end for the mill. After nearly 60 years, St. Joe decided to get out of the paper business. The mill was sold in 1996 to Florida Coast Paper for $390 million and was able to operate and produce paper until another decline of the containerboard market. The mill closed August 16, 1998, and did not reopen. The mill was gone by 2003.
In November 1995, St. Joe announced a deal to sell 16 box plants and its pulp and paper mill for $390 million, taking a big step to divest its noncore assets. Box USA, owned by Four M Corp. of Valhalla, New York, the largest privately held corrugated boxmaker in the nation at that time, acquired the East Coast box plants. It also bought the pulp and paper mill in Port St. Joe, Florida, in a joint venture with Stone Container Corp. of Chicago. After the sales, St. Joe Paper was left with 1 million acres of forest land and property in Florida, among other assets.
Gaylord Container was a byproduct of the hostile takeover of Crown Zellerbach by Sir James Goldsmith in July 1985, which resulted in the breakup of the San Francisco-based forest products corporation in May 1986. The more profitable manufacturing assets (fine paper mills) were sold to James River Corp. of Richmond, Virginia—which became Fort James in 1997 and was acquired by Georgia-Pacific in 2000. The less profitable container division (brown paper) became Gaylord Container and, after a brief period as a limited partnership, was sold in November 1986 for $260 million to a group of Midwest investors, led by Warren Hayford and Marvin Pomerantz. They headed Mid-America Packaging, a single kraft paper mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, acquired from Weyerhaeuser in December 1985 for $28 million. Soon after the acquisition of the former Crown Zellerbach assets, the headquarters of Gaylord Container were moved from California to Illinois.
The company was originally named after the gaylord container, a bulk-size corrugated box by a company of the same name, based in Gaylord, Michigan. The company was acquired by Crown Zellerbach in 1955, which renamed its brown paper operations to Gaylord Container Division.
In 2002, Inland acquired Gaylord Container Corp.
Container Corp. of America
Container Corp. of America (CCA) was founded in 1926. In 1968, CCA merged with Montgomery Ward & Co. Inc. in a move that was largely intended to thwart takeover bids against either company. MARCOR maintained separate management for the operations of each company but had a joint board of directors. In 1986, Mobil Corp., which had bought MARCOR in the early 1970s, sold the CCA company to Jefferson Smurfit Corp., which merged with Stone Container Corp. in 1998 to become part of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. CCA was a wholly owned subsidiary of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
Also added in 1998 by International Paper was Weston Paper and Manufacturing Co., acquired through a stock deal valued at $232 million. Based in Terre Haute, Indiana, Weston operated 11 corrugated container plants in the South and Midwest, including a medium mill at its headquarters.
MeadWestvaco was formed in January 2002 as the result of a merger between the Mead Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, and Westvaco (originally Piedmont Pulp and Paper Co. and then West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co.). In 2005, the papers business unit—including both Mead and Westvaco paper mills—was sold to investment firm Cerberus Capital Management for about $2.3 billion. The new company is called NewPage Corp.
In 2008, MeadWestvaco sold its Charleston, South Carolina, kraft paper mill to Kapstone Paper and Packaging and its Stevenson, Alabama, medium mill to Smurfit-Stone, which became RockTenn.
In April 2004, International Paper announced it had agreed to acquire Box USA Holdings Inc., one of America’s leading corrugated packaging companies.
In June 1999, Weyerhaeuser announced its intention to buy MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. of Canada for stock valued at about $2.45 billion. The merger made Weyerhaeuser, which at that time was already the world’s largest producer of softwood lumber and market pulp, a leader in packaging as well.
In 1999, Union Camp Corp. was acquired by International Paper. At the time, it was referred to as a merger, but it was actually a takeover. The Union Camp chairman at that time, W. Craig McClelland, had actually sold another company, Hammermill Paper Co., to International Paper in the mid-1980s, when he was also in charge of that company. He finally retired from International Paper’s board of directors in late 2006.
In 1976, Continental Can Co. changed its name to Continental Group, a conglomerate with operations in many countries, but it kept Continental Can as its packaging unit within Continental Group. In 1987, the remnants of Continental Can became part of the United States Can Co. (a subsidiary of Inter-American Packaging). Continental Group was dismantled in 1991, and early that year, Continental Can Co. was ordered to pay out $415 million to some 3,700 former employees and members of the United Steel Workers of America, when the courts found that the company had attempted to defraud the employees of pensions during the late 1970s. The rights to the Continental Can Co. name and logo were sold in 1991 and renamed Viatech Continental Can Co. Inc. in October 1992. In June 1998, Suiza Foods Corp. completed its acquisition of Continental Can. In July 1999, Suiza sold all of Continental Can’s U.S. packaging operations in partial exchange for a minority interest in the purchaser, Consolidated Container Co. As of 2000, the only remaining business of Continental Can was Dixie Union, a small flexible film business based in Kempten, Germany.
In 2000, Champion International was bought by International Paper. Champion had operated since the late 19th century in the United States and other countries.
In the next two issues, we will cover Owens-Illinois, Great Northern Nekoosa, Crown Zellerbach, Southern Container, Longview Fibre, Boise Cascade, Hinde and Dauch, Inland, U.S. Corrugated, CeCorr, St. Laurent, Westvaco, Hoerner Waldorf, and Chesapeake.
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 askralph@AICCbox.org.
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.