Historical Markers
Rittenhouse Town Historical Marker
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Rittenhouse Town

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Lincoln Dr. at Rittenhouse St. just off Wissahickon Ave., Fairmount Park

Dedication Date:
April 8, 1991

Behind the Marker

A Paper-Mill near German-Town doth stand,
So that the Flax, which first springs from the Land,
First Flax, then Yarn, and then they must begin
To weave the same, which they took pains to spin.
Also, when on our backs it is well worn,
Some of the same remains Ragged and Torn;
Then of the Rags our Paper is made,
Which in process of time dost waste and fade:
So, what comes from the Earth, appeareth plain,
The same in Time, marker returns to Earth again.

                                 Richard Frame, 1692. 

Black and white photograph of a mill. A woman stands near the entrance.
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The old paper mill across from David Rittenhouse's birthplace, Philadelphia,...
Less than a decade after William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania, a German immigrant, William Rittenhouse, built a paper mill on the Monoshone Creek in  the newly established settlement of Germantown. The mill supplied paper to William Bradford, who had set up a print shop in Philadelphia in 1685.

Papermaking was a well-established craft in Europe where the demand for printed material had grown steadily ever since Gutenberg had developed movable type in the mid-fifteenth century.
A black and white photograph of the original homestead.
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The Rittenhouse homestead, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1900.
Rags served as the raw material for paper, usually linen fabrics derived from the fiber of the flax plant. Rags were pounded into pulp by water-powered trip hammers. Then a mixture of pulp and water was poured through wire mesh paper molds, which were pressed to remove the water. Using this simple method a team of three men could produce about 2,000 sheets of paper per day.

After a flood destroyed the first mill in 1701, Rittenhouse rebuilt it a short distance below the original one. At the time of his death in 1708, his son Claus was running the mill. The demand for paper increased in 1719, when Andrew Bradford, son of William, started publishing the third newspaper in the colonies. The other two were in Boston. A few years later, young Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia to pursue a highly successful career in printing and publishing. The rising demand for paper led to the construction of a second mill on Wissahickon Creek in 1710 by a Rittenhouse in-law, William DeWees. A third mill complex followed in 1729, built by Thomas Willcox on the Chester Creek in Delaware County.

Black and white photograph of a house with a porch.
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Abraham Rittenhouse Home, Philadelphia, PA, as it appeared in the late 1800s.
As the colonies grew in the eighteenth century, the use of paper in books, newspapers, and government and legal documents also grew. By 1770, there were forty paper mills in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In 1810, about one-third of all the paper mills in the United States were in the Keystone State. In the early nineteenth century, the era of handmade paper began to end as papermakers experimented with machines that would automatically make continuous rolls.

The most successful paper making machine, originally invented by Fourdrinier in France, was first introduced into the United States in 1827. The other major change in paper was to substitute wood pulp for rags, which began in the 1850s. By this time, four generations of William Rittenhouse descendents had operated paper mills on the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks.

The most famous member of the family, William's great grandson, markerDavid Rittenhouse, born in 1732, was an accomplished astronomer and mathematician, who served as a technical expert to the Founding Fathers and for the revolutionary cause.
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