Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

The Industrial Revolution, which began in earnest in this country around the mid 1800’s, saw a change in our largely agrarian, handicraft-based economy to a landscape dominated by factory and machine manufacturing processes. 

International Paper was founded in 1898 with the merger of 17 paper mills, one of them being the former Lake George Paper Company in Ticonderoga.  IP has been a mainstay of the community ever since.  Whether you’re for it or against it, love it or hate it, the mill provides good paying jobs to its roughly 700 employees.  And let’s not forget that it generates a product we all use every day.  There’s no sidestepping that truth.
Jorg Borowski

On Friday there was a terrible accident at the mill which resulted in a fatality.  Jorg Borowski was a Schroon Laker, known and liked by nearly everyone in our small community.

I know that any morning when my husband leaves for work at the mill, there is the chance he may not come home, however slight.  It’s true of any of us; unfortunate events can and do happen every day.  But for those who work in manufacturing, those risks are multiplied and very real.

Our modern life comes from big, ugly, noisy, stinky, heavy things.  Power plants, fuel extraction and processing, any type of manufacturing (stuff has to get MADE, it doesn’t just APPEAR), modern day agriculture – they all use copious amounts of energy.  Industry specifics aside, manufacturing utilizes complex processes, forces, chemicals, heat, intense pressure of all kinds.  All of these things are dangerous entities.  Tremendous strides have been made in worker safety over the past half century or so, but accidents do still happen.

Machine Room, Otis Mill, Chisholm, Maine, 1909
(note bare feet on operators)
Real men and women are doing the work, sweating under hardhats and using their hands, working hard to make these things happen for the rest of us.  When you flip a switch on a wall, mentally follow that line to its source – all the way.  When you use a piece of paper, think about the starting point of that tree and what it went through to be the disposable item you have in your hand.  It didn’t happen by itself; people made that possible.

Georgetown, SC, 1946
Do some research online about processes.  Better yet, take a tour of a mill.  Both International Paper and Finch Paper in Glens Falls offer tours of their facilities.  Pretend you’re a Cub Scout if you have to so you can get on a group tour.  Ask an employee acquaintance you may know if one can be arranged.  It’s an eye opening experience.

At the end of the day, people are the ones that make any kind of production happen.  Our family, friends and neighbors are the ones running the machines and doing the work.  And sometimes, they pay the price for our modern life.

(Photos reproduced from "Generations of Pride: A Centennial History of International Paper," 1998.)

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