Kingsport: The Mead Paper Co.

A new archives exhibit has been installed at the Kingsport Public Library and this one relates to the paper making industry that has been such a crucial part of the town’s economic development.

Around 1916, a paper plant was established on Clinchfield Rd. at the end of Main St: the Kingsport Pulp Corporation. Within the year, the Mead Pulp and Paper Co. invested in the Kingsport plant. (Mead got its start in 1846 in Dayton, Ohio.) Mead bought the plant in 1920 but did not really take over operations until 1926, when the Kingsport Pulp Corporation became a subsidiary of Mead. In 1931, the Kingsport plant became the Kingsport Division of the Mead Corporation.

The Kingsport Archives has a wonderful resource that is rarely used by the community. It is a collection of bound Mead Company newsletters ranging from 1950-1970. Not only do these newsletters supply a wonderful visual history of the paper industry in Kingsport, of its employees, and families, but they also chronicle city events and personal lives with feature stories, photo essays, statistics, and more. The exhibit features 6 of these bound volumes and many other photographs, publications, and ephemera highlighting Mead’s history and achievements.

The exhibit case on the left boasts a 1938 Richard Alvey aerial image of the plant and three vintage postcards.

The exhibit case on the left boasts a 1938 Richard Alvey aerial image of the plant and three vintage postcards.

Several historic photographs are displayed in the right exhibit case, including one dramatic image of the plant surrounded by stacks of cut wood.

Several historic photographs are displayed in the right exhibit case, including one dramatic image of the plant surrounded by a sea of stacked, cut wood.

The archives is fortunate to have in its collection numerous Thomas McNeer photographs that document the commercial and industrial enterprises of developing modern Kingsport. Here are just two from the exhibit:

A 1957 Mead Christmas party for employee families at the Kingsport Civic Center.

A 1957 Mead Christmas party for employee families at the Kingsport Civic Center.

The condition of the plant after a 1958 ice storm.

The condition of the plant after a 1958 ice storm.

Each year, the “Mead Messenger” devoted several pages to the high school and college graduates of Mead employees. This annual feature is a gold mine for family history researchers.

This 1969 layout lists a student's name and school along with the employee's name and job description.

This 1969 layout lists the student’s names and school along with the employee’s name, photo, and job description.

I was really excited to employ a museum technique that I learned while visiting the exhibit “Of Sword and Pen” at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville. I used Plexiglas book stands to relieve pressure on the bindings and Mylar straps to gently keep the pages open without damaging the spines. I wasn’t handling materials as fragile as the ones in the Knoxville exhibit, but the principles are similar.

Note the Mylar strap secured just left of the book's center.

Note the Mylar strap secured just left of the book’s center.

The Inspiration: a stand allows this valuable book to open to a safe width while the Mylar band secures the pages to the stand to prevent the book from closing.

The Inspiration: a stand allows this valuable book to open to a safe width while the Mylar band secures the pages to the stand, preventing the book from closing.


Mead owned the Kingsport Division for 75 years. For a chronology on the plant’s history after Mead relinquished ownership, see Domtar’s Kingsport Mill page.

The Mead Paper Co. exhibit is on the main floor (2nd) of the Kingsport Public Library on either side of the elevator and will be up through July 1, 2014. Items in the exhibit come from the following collections.

Anna Doggett Cannon Collection (KCMC 482)
Weyerhaeuser Kingsport Pulp & Paper (KCMC 92)
Kingsport Postcards (KCMC 124)
Richard Alvey Aerial of Mead Corporation (KCMC 304)
Mason & Dixon Collection (KCMC 299)
A Photographic Retrospective Exhibit Collection (KCMC 363)
Sevier Middle School Media Center (KCMC 273)
Miscellaneous Kingsport Publications (KCMC 281)
Bob Lawrence Kingsport Postcard Collection (KCMC 117)
Photograph Compilation Collection (KCMC 249)
Online Archive Image Database

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One Response to Kingsport: The Mead Paper Co.

  1. John Dotson says:

    Very interesting.

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