James M. Willcox Paper Co., 1916, Historical Sketch

The Willcox paper-mill at Ivy Mills, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, was established by Thomas Willcox, who had been a paper-maker in England. On August 4, 1729, he put in operation his new paper-mill, believed to be the third erected in America. Not much is known about the early operation of the mill, except what is contained in the account books of Benjamin Franklin, which are in the possession of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

These books show that the first purchase of paper by Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Willcox was made on June 26, 1735; and that until Franklin retired from business he bought paper from Thomas Willcox and sold rags to him, as well as groceries, dry goods, hardware, etc. When Franklin retired from active business he signed an agreement with Thomas Willcox on one of the pages of his ledger, of which the following is a copy: "Aug. 8, 1749. Settled Accts. with Mr. Willcox & I am Dr. to Ballance 19.7.8 1/2." (Signed) B. Franklin and Thomas Willcox.

Thomas Willcox retired from the management of the mill when his son Mark attained his majority in 1765. Thomas Willcox died in 1779. He bequeathed his farm and mill to his son Mark. During the war of the Revolution Mark Willcox was engaged during much of the time in making paper for the use of the Continental Congress, and for the currency authorized by that body, and also on two occasions by Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finances. Among such papers may be mentioned that used for the first loan, authorized in October, 1776; 46,946 sheets for which were made. He also made, from 1777 to 1786, the paper for the Pennsylvania bills and loan certificates ordered by the Supreme Executive Council; and, in 1785, paper for the State of South Carolina. In 1781 he made ten thousand sheets for the notes of the Bank of North America, to the stock of which he was one of the first subscribers.

In March, 1778, all of the paper in the mill of Mark Willcox was seized, by order of the Council of Safety, to prevent it from being taken by the enemy. In March, 1783, an order was drawn on the Treasurer for sixty-eight pounds specie to pay for this paper. After making the bank-note paper for the Bank of North America, Mark Willcox, and also his successors, made that kind of paper a special department of manufacture in their business.

Mark Willcox died in 1827, having bequeathed his mill and g farm to his son James, born in 1791. At the time of Mark Willcox's death, he and his father had operated the paper-mill 98 years. In 1829 James M. Willcox rebuilt the mill and continued the manufacture of bank-note paper as g a specialty; the paper for several South American countries having been supplied by him, and also for the U. S. Treasury Department at various times and for the United States Bank. In 1838 he built a new paper-mill at Glen Mills (two miles from Ivy Mills) containing a Fourdrinier machine, and in 1846 another mill of the same kind at the same place.

James M. Willcox died in 1854, and was succeeded by his sons, Mark, James, and Joseph.

Among the banks in foreign countries for which they made hand-made, water-marked papers, large amounts were supplied to the Bank of Montreal, to the Bank of Greece, and to a bank in Cuba. In 1866 the manufacture of handmade paper at Ivy Mills was abandoned. The ruins of the mill, and also the farm, are now owned by Thomas Willcox of the fourth generation from the founder. During the Civil War, Mark, James, and Joseph Willcox manufactured the bank-note and bond papers for the U. S. Treasury Department. Later, in turn, Joseph and James retired from business. Mark Willcox died in 1883, having bequeathed the two paper mills at Glen Mills to his sons, James and William. In 1892 the mills were sold to the Glen Mills Paper Company, the present owners.

1. "JAMES M. WILLCOX PAPER CO., Philadelphia," Association of Centenary Firms and Corporations of the United States, Second Issue, Philadelphia, 1916, pages 19-21.

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