W. V. Bowater and Sons
of 159 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC
1881 Company established by William Vansittart Bowater as paper maker's agents. His office was in the City of London, at the heart of the newspaper publishing and printing industries, where he operated as a paper wholesaler and as an agent for the purchase of newsprint on behalf of newspaper publishers.
By the end of the 19th century, 3 of his sons had joined William in his business which became W. V. Bowater and Sons.
The final decades of the 19th century saw the birth of the popular press in Britain and soaring demand for newsprint. Bowater secured contracts with two of the most dynamic newspaper and magazine tycoons, Alfred Harmsworth, publisher of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, and Edward Lloyd, publisher of the Daily Chronicle.
Three of William Bowater's five sons joined him in partnership, and the firm - later renamed W. V. Bowater and Sons - gradually prospered and expanded.
1903 Dissolution of the Partnership between William Vansittart Bowater, Thomas Vansittart Bowater, Frank Henry Bowater, and Frederick William Bowater, carrying on business as Paper Makers' Agents and Wholesale Stationers, at 159, Queen Victoria-street, in the city of London, under the style or firm of W. V. BOWATER AND SONS, by mutual consent as and from the 30th day of November, 1903, from which date the said business was to be carried on by Thomas Vansittart Bowater, Frank Henry Bowater and Frederick William Bowater under the same style or firm.
1905 The personnel comprised only the four partners, six clerks, two typists, and an office boy.
1907 W. V. Bowater died.
1910 Bowater adopted limited liability status as a private company as W. V. Bowater and Sons
1913 The head of the firm, Thomas Vansittart Bowater, the founder's eldest son (knighted in 1906), became Lord Mayor of London, leaving the running of the family business to his younger brothers. Besides wholesaling and agency activities, during the Edwardian era the company moved into large-scale dealing in waste paper, including the export of surplus newspapers to the Far East, where they were used for the protection of young tea plants.
1914 Paper manufacturers and agents. Specialities: news, fine and common printings, in reams or on reels; writings, art papers, wrappers etc.; waste papers; belting, china clay, machine wires, machinery metals and other paper making materials. 
1914 Bowater's first step towards becoming a paper manufacturer was the purchase of a site at Northfleet on the south side of the Thames estuary near Gravesend in May 1914.
1914 These years also saw the commencement of the export of newsprint to Australia, leading to the establishment of a US marketing subsidiary, Hudson Packaging and Paper Company, in 1914, and an office in Sydney, Australia, in 1919. These were the first steps in Bowater's development into a multinational corporation.
WWI boosted newspaper sales and demand remained buoyant in the postwar years. The war interrupted the firm's plans so it was not until 1923 that the construction of a paper mill could be considered.
1923 The contractor for the mill at Northfleet was Armstrong, Whitworth and Co, a major armaments manufacturer which had turned to other activities after the end of the war. There were serious flaws in Armstrong's design of the Northfleet mill, and modifications had to be made during construction. These changes led to large cost overruns and delayed the commencement of full production from July 1925 until almost a year later.
The resolution of the serious problems at Northfleet was the work of Eric Bowater, a grandson of the founder who had entered the firm in 1921. This achievement was his stepping stone to the leadership of the firm. .
1926 W. V. Bowater and Sons (1926) Ltd was incorporated, as wholesale stationers and exporters, to acquire two controlled companies, Thames Exporting Packing Co and A. H. Green and Co. Owned 90 percent of the Bowater Paper Company Inc of New York. Was reconstructed as a public company
1927 Eric Vansittart Bowater became chairman and managing director of W. V. Bowater and Sons and was the leading figure in the firm for the following three and a half decades. He dominated Bowater's affairs by sheer force of personality.
1928 Eric Bowater was determined to establish Bowater as a major force in UK paper making as fast as possible. He negotiated the sale of a controlling interest in the firm to the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere, which reduced the family's shareholding to 40 percent. Rothermere's backing allowed Bowater to raise the finance to double the output of the Northfleet mill in 1928.
He looked immediately for further opportunities to expand and a new project was initiated to build a large paper mill on the Mersey, near Liverpool, which was financed jointly by Bowater, Rothermere, and Beaverbrook newspapers. The latter entered a long-term contract to receive supplies of newsprint from the new undertaking.
By the end of 1930 the output of Bowater's mills was 175,000 tons of newsprint per year, 22 percent of the UK's total output. In order to achieve this result, it had been necessary to cede control of the business to the 2 press barons. Rothermere's business, however, was badly affected by the slump at the beginning of the 1930s.
1932 In order to raise cash, Rothmere sold his Bowater shareholding back to Bowater. Beaverbrook followed suit. Eric Bowater thus found himself in absolute control of the firm again, now the UK's largest newsprint producer.
Newspaper circulation rose again in the 1930s and Eric Bowater's response was to double the capacity of the Mersey mills.
1936 He purchased paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley from Lloyd Group, which doubled the firm's output of newsprint to around 500,000 tons per annum. In little more than a decade since the start of manufacturing, Bowater was producing 60 percent of British newsprint and had become the largest newsprint undertaking in Europe.
In 1937, profits were squeezed by a large and unforeseen rise in pulp prices engineered by a cartel of Scandinavian producers. This was a chastening experience for Eric Bowater, who resolved to prevent its repetition by securing the firm's own pulp supplies. Bowater immediately acquired interests in Swedish and Norwegian pulp mills.
1938 It purchased the massive mill at Corner Brook, Newfoundland's most important industrial undertaking with newsprint capacity of 200,000 tons per year and resources of 7,000 square miles of timber land. These moves were described by Eric Bowater as a "raw material insurance policy."
By the eve of World War II, Bowater was a multinational manufacturer producing 800,000 tons of newsprint annually and a host of other products for an international clientèle.
WWII. Wartime controls to divert resources to the war effort had a devastating impact on Bowater's UK newsprint production, which fell to a fifth of the pre-war level. The Northfleet mill closed down completely. Bowater himself was diverted from the firm's affairs from 1940 to 1945 by work for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, for which he was knighted in 1944. Since a rapid revival of demand for newsprint appeared unlikely, Sir Eric Bowater adopted a policy of diversification into paper packaging which began with the purchase of Acme Corrugated Cases in 1944.
Acquired installations in various parts of the UK making many types of packaging based mainly on paper but also on plastics and foil. The range of papers made in addition to newsprint was considerably widened and the road transport fleet and other auxiliary services expanded.
1947 Bowater's various businesses were re-organized in a more streamlined structure in which a number of wholly owned operating companies reported to a holding company which was given a new name, the Bowater Paper Corporation. The war had much less impact upon Bowater's North American operations, and from 1944 to 1950 US consumption almost doubled. A new company, Associated Bowater Industries was formed to hold the non-newsprint businesses which might have more potential for growth.
For Sir Eric Bowater the formation of the Bowater Paper Corporation marked a new point of departure. Over the ensuing decade and a half he worked tirelessly to build up the business on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, the strategy of diversification away from newsprint continued through the late 1940s and early 1950s with further acquisitions of paper products firms.
In North America, by contrast, the relentless rise in U.S. demand for newsprint led to the construction of a paper mill at Calhoun, Tennessee, marking the firm's debut as a producer in the United States.
1954 Self-sufficiency was taken a step further by the formation of the firm's own shipping fleet.
By the mid-1950s Bowater was the largest producer of newsprint in the world, a position Bowater had no intention of relinquishing.
1955 Diversification continued to be an objective in the United Kingdom, leading to expansion of the building products and packaging activities and most importantly to entry into the rapidly growing tissue market through the acquisition of the St. Andrews tissue mill.
1956 In the United Kingdom, the end of government paper control inspired a resurgence of optimism regarding demand for newsprint, and further capacity was added at Kemsley and on Merseyside. The Bowater-Scott Corporation was formed, a company jointly owned by Bowater Corporation and the market leader in tissue technology, the Scott Paper Company of Philadelphia.
- Bowater-Scott for detailed company history.
Sources of Information
- London Gazette 4 December 1903
- 1914 Whitakers Red Book
- The Times 31 Mar 1927
- London Gazette