Charles Fenerty (January, 1821 – 10 June 1892) was a Canadian inventor of newsprint made from wood pulp. Before wood pulp, paper was made from rags. Papermaking began in Egypt (see Papyrus) c3000 BC. And in 105 AD, Ts'ai Lun a Chinese inventor, invented modern papermaking using rags, cotton, and other plant fibres by pulping it. Then in the 18th century a French scientist by the name of René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur suggested that paper could be made from trees. Though he never experimented himself, his theory caught the interest of others, namely Matthias Koops. In 1800 Koops published a book on papermaking made from straw. Its outer covers were made from trees. His method wasn't like Fenerty's (pulping wood); instead he simply ground the wood and adhered it together. His book does not mention anything to do with wood pulping.
Around 1838 a German weaver by the name of Friedrich Gottlob Keller read Réaumur's report and got curious. He experimented for a few years and in 1845 he filed for a patent for the ground wood pulp process for making modern paper. This was the beginning of a very large industry that exists to this day. In that same year Henry Voelter bought the patent for about five hundred dollars and started making paper. Keller didn't have the funds to do it. At one point he didn't have sufficient money to renew his patent. Keller died poor, but well remembered in Germany as being the first to discover the process.
At the same time Charles Fenerty was working on the same idea. He began experimenting around 1838, and in 1844 he made his discovery public. He worked for his father in saw mills, supplying Halifax dockyards with lumber for shipbuilding, as well as local paper mills. Fenerty's inspiration came from his environment. He was a lover of nature and knowledgeable in the natural sciences. The demand for paper was on the rise and at the same time the supply of rags to produce paper was declining. Demand was so high that eventually Europe starting cutting down their shipments of cotton to North America. Fenerty was well aware of this. The mill owners and farms knew each other very well in the local area. It is believed that Fenerty often stopped at these paper mills. After seeing how paper is made and comparing it to the saw mills, it is not difficult to imagine how Fenerty got the idea, as the process is very much the same: fibres are extracted from the cotton and used to make paper. Fenerty was well aware of the fact that trees have fibres, too.
In a letter written by a family member circa 1915 it is mentioned that Charles Fenerty had shown a crude sample of his paper to a friend named Charles Hamilton in 1840 (a relative of his future wife). But on October 26th, 1844 Fenerty published a letter in the Acadian Recorder newspaper in Halifax, saying:
Messrs. English & Blackadar,
Enclosed is a small piece of PAPER, the result of an experiment I have made, in order to ascertain if that useful article might not be manufactured from WOOD. The result has proved that opinion to be correct, for- by the sample which I have sent you, Gentlemen- you will perceive the feasibility of it. The enclosed, which is as firm in its texture as white, and to all appearance as durable as the common wrapping paper made from hemp, cotton, or the ordinary materials of manufacture is ACTUALLY COMPOSED OF SPRUCE WOOD, reduced to a pulp, and subjected to the same treatment as paper is in course of being made, only with this exception, VIZ: my insufficient means of giving it the required pressure. I entertain an opinion that our common forest trees, either hard or soft wood, but more especially the fir, spruce, or poplar, on account of the fibrous quality of their wood, might easily be reduced by a chafing machine, and manufactured into paper of the finest kind. This opinion, Sirs, I think the experiment will justify, and leaving it to be prosecuted further by the scientific, or the curious.
I remain, Gentlemen, your obdt. servant,
The Acadian Recorder
Saturday, October 26, 1844
Little attention was given and even Fenerty himself never pursued the idea and he never took out a patent on his process. But it did mark the beginning to a new industry. Dr. Oschatz was another Nova Scotia who took it further, but today most people attribute F.G. Keller as the original inventor.
Fenerty travelled to Australia then returned again to Halifax in 1865. He held several positions: Wood Measurer, Census Taker, Health Warden, Tax Collector for his community, and Overseer of the Poor. He was also very involved with the Church. Fenerty died on June 10, 1892 in his home in Upper Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Fenerty was also a well known poet of his time, publishing more than 35 (known) poems. Some popular titles were: "Betula Nigra" (about a Black Birch tree), "Essay on Progress" (published in 1866), and "The Prince's Lodge" (about Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, written around 1838 and published in 1888). In October of 1854, he won first prize for "Betula Nigra" at the Nova Scotia Industrial Exhibition.