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Bowater PLC
Industry Pulp and paper, wood products
Successor Packaging: Rexam
Building Products: VEKA
North America: Resolute Forest Products
Australia: Carter Holt Harvey
Founded London, England (1881 (1881))
Founder William Vansittart Bowater
Defunct 1997 (1997)
Headquarters Knightsbridge, London, England
Area served
Key people
William Vansittart Bowater, Thomas Vansittart Bowater, Sir Eric Bowater
Products Newsprint, uncoated groundwood, wood products, recycling services, lumber

Bowater was a British pulp and paper company, which after post-World War II expansion, through a 30-year period of consolidation now forms the core of a number of globally leading worldwide paper products companies.


Manchester-born William Vansittart Bowater trained as a manager with James Wrigley and Sons, a paper making business based in Manchester. Having been dismissed in 1881 at age 43, Bowater decided to establish himself as a paper agent in London.[1]

W.V. Bowater and Sons

In a quickly expanding market, Bowater later secured contracts to supply newsprint to two of the leading publishing entrepreneurs: Alfred Harmsworth, then publisher of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror; and Edward Lloyd, publisher of the Daily Chronicle. The company was subsequently renamed W.V. Bowater and Sons after three of Bowater's sons joined the business, but as an agent the business had few staff: Bowater and his three sons as partner; six clerks; two typists; and an office boy.[1]

After Bowater's death in 1907, in 1910 the company became a private limited liability company, led by Thomas Vansittart Bowater. It expanded into large-scale dealing in waste paper, including the export of surplus newspapers to the Far East to enable their protection during shipping of tea plants. But after Thomas became Lord Mayor of London in 1913, the company was left to be run by his younger brothers, who expanded the business internationally. They established an office in Sydney to export newsprint to Australia, and the Hudson Packaging and Paper Company to market UK newsprint in the United States.[1]

1920s: Paper manufacturer

The start of World War I brought about huge growth in the paper market, and the company was prepared for this having purchased a site for development as a pulp and paper making mill in Northfleet, on the south side of the Thames estuary near Gravesend.[1] However, with restrictions on both raw materials and production imposed by the Ministry of War, construction was not started by contractor Armstrong, Whitworth and Co until post the end of the war. After the need to redesign the plant proposed by Armstrong Whitworth, eldest grandson Eric Bowater was put in charge of the project to select new secondary contractors. After he established full production from the plant in July 1925, in 1927 at the age of 32, he became chairman and managing director of W.V. Bowater and Sons.[1]

In 1928, Eric sold stakes in the business to both Lord Rothermere and other investors, reducing the families stake to 40%. The resulting cash injection allowed a doubling of expansion at Northfleet through additional investment. In 1929 he agreed a deal with both Lord Rothermere and Beaverbrook newspapers to establish a new pulp and paper mill on the River Mersey, near Liverpool, the product from which would be consumed under long term supply deals to the newspapers of the two investors. Resultantly, by the end of 1930 with both plants online at full production, Bowater's mills output was 175,000 tons of newsprint per annum, 22% of the UK's total newsprint output.[1]


However, the great depression cut badly into both investors businesses, resulting in a desperate need for cash injections. After Rothermere sold his stakes in both the main company and the Mersey mill, Beaverbrook took the same action, resulting the company being again completely in family control. As newspaper circulation rose again, Eric invested to double the capacity of the Mersey mills.[1]

After the death of Edward Lloyd, in 1936 the company bought both the Sittingbourne and relatively new Kemsley Paper Mill. This brought the company's output to 500,000 tons per annum across four plants, producing 60% of British newsprint and the largest newsprint maker in Europe.[1]

After a Scandinavian-cartel engineered a large rise in pulp prices, Eric started to buy into raw pulp production. After buying forest interests in both Sweden and Norway, he built a large pulp and paper mill at Corner Brook, Newfoundland in 1938, which owned 7,000 square miles (18,000 km2) of timber and produced 200,000 tons per year of paper. This brought the companies newsprint output up to 800,000 tons per annum.[1]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, the British government restricted the import and consumption of wood and other products used to create pulp, resulting in an 80% reducing in the companies pre-War UK output. Resultantly, the Northfleet plant which was closest to occupied Europe was closed down. From 1940, Eric Bowater himself was seconded by William Morris to join his team at Ministry of Aircraft Production, for which he was knighted in 1944.[1]

After he returned to the business in 1945, Sir Eric Bowater focused the business on packaging in the UK, and international expansion. After buying Acme Corrugated Cases Ltd in 1944, Bowater began to organise the companies interests into a series of wholly owned subsidiaries from 1947:

  • Associated Bowater Industries: packaging
  • [The] Bowater Paper Corporation:[2] the United States newsprint market had boomed, and by 1950 had doubled in consumption from immediate post-war levels. In the 1950s, the company opened its first pulp and paper mill in Calhoun, Tennessee, and in the 1960s a pulp plant in Catawba.
  • Bowater-Scott Corporation: a joint-venture with the Scott Paper Company, which produced tissue paper. The company was formed of the former St. Andrews tissue mill in the UK, and the non-North American plants of Scott Paper.
  • Bowater Europe: consisted of various assets in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. After the purchase of Les Papeteries de la Chapelle with capacity of 180,000 tons, the company became the largest newsprint maker in France.
  • Bowater NZ: a joint venture to produce pulp and newsprint in New Zealand to supply the Australian market.
  • Bowater Shipping: a wholly owed shipping line, distributing both pulp and paper product

As a result, by the mid-1950s, Bowater was the largest producer of newsprint in the world.[1]

1960s–1980s: death of Sir Eric, retrenchment

By 1962, company assets totalled close to £200 million.[3]

Consuming huge amounts of capital, the company had failed to invest in its newsprint production, leaving it with a high cost base which was added to by the opening of new head offices in Knightsbridge.[1]

After the death of Sir Eric in 1962, the company began to consolidate. The money-losing European assets were slowly sold off, until the last French plant was sold in the early 1970s. UK and North American newsprint was unwound, with the loss of 300,000 tons of annual production and the closure of the Northfleet mill.[1]


Bowater Inc.

The North American assests were demerged from the UK and Australian businesses in the 1970s, becoming known as Bowater Inc., headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina. The company acquired additional Canadian interests in the late 1990s, when they bought Avenor (formerly Canadian Pacific Forest Products). By the mid-2000s, Bowater Inc had 10,000 employees across 12 pulp and paper mills in the United States, Canada and South Korea, and 13 North American sawmills. On 29 January 2007, Bowater Inc and Abitibi-Consolidated announced they would be merging to create AbitibiBowater.[4] The merger created the third largest pulp and paper company in North America, and the eighth largest in the world. On 1 July 2012, the company name changed to Resolute Forest Products.

Bowater Industries plc

The residual UK and Australian business became known as Bowater Industries plc, across five units:[1]

  • Packaging and industrial products
  • Builders merchants products: now part of VEKA[5]
  • Building products group: now part of VEKA
  • Bowater Freight Services: sold off to Harper Group in 1989,[6] which after merger itself with Eagle Global Logistics is now known as CEVA Logistics
  • Bowater Australia: consolidated to 100% ownership in 1986, after agreeing a swap deal by buying-out Scott Paper's 50% interest, while selling the UK tissue assets to Scott Paper;[1] now part of Carter Holt Harvey

After the sale of the Freight Services group in 1989, and the takeover of printer and publisher Norton Opax PLC in 1990 for £382 million, the group renamed itself Bowater PLC. After buying packaging companies Cope Allman Packaging and DRG Packaging, in 1997 the company changed its name to Rexam.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 "Bowater-Scott". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 4 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Robert Knight, ‘Bowater, Sir Eric Vansittart (1895–1962)’, rev. Anita McConnell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 10 Aug 2014
  4. CBC
  5. "VEKA announces acquisition of Bowater Building Products". VEKA. 16 June 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Bowater Freight Services". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>