Teach PA History
From Rags to (Paper) Riches: Explore Colonial Papermaking
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
Elementary School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
  • Science and Technology
Historical Period
  • Colonization and Settlement - 1601-1760
The production of paper in the American colonies began when William Rittenhouse built a paper mill near Philadelphia in 1690. The availability of paper spurred the growth of colonial printing and publishing throughout the eighteenth century, and thus greatly contributed to the Revolutionary cause by the late 1700s. This lesson will introduce students to William Rittenhouse and the principles of colonial papermaking. Students will analyze two poems written in the 1690s about the Rittenhouse paper mill to learn about colonial papermaking techniques. They will then make their own paper using a similar process to that used by Rittenhouse and his sons. Finally, students will compare and contrast their classroom experience with what they learned about the colonial papermaking process by completing a Venn Diagram.


1. Use reading techniques to understand two historic poems about papermaking. 2. Describe basic steps of colonial-era papermaking. 3. Make a sheet of paper using a process similar to the one William Rittenhouse used. 4. Compare and contrast colonial papermaking with the process used in class.

Standards Alignment

  • History

    8.1.3 B. Develop an understanding of historical sources.
    8.2.3. A. Understand the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.5. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.6.3. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.3. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.5. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.5. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.5. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

  • Science and Technology

    3.1.4. B. Know that natural and human-made objects are made up of parts.
    3.6.4. C. Know physical technologies of structural design, finance, production, marketing, research and design.
    3.7.4. A. Explore the use of basic tools, simple materials, and techniques to safely solve problems.
    3.8.4. A. Know that people select, create, and use science and technology and that they are limited by social and physical restraints.
    3.8.4. B. Know how human ingenuity and technological resources satisfy specific human needs and improve the quality of life.

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