Date of Award

2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard Judd

Second Committee Member

Pauleena MacDougall

Third Committee Member

Howard Segal

Abstract

The history of the Eastern Fine Paper mill in Brewer, Maine is a long and fascinating tale of innovation, adaptation, and a distinct work community spanning more than a century. Beginning with its incorporation as Eastern Manufacturing under lumber baron Frederick Wellington Ayer in 1889, whose technological innovation laid a strong foundation for the Brewer mill's future, "the Eastern" endured through the ebbs and flows of an often precarious pulp and paper market, two World Wars, tenuous labor relations, and various changes of ownership, until 2004, when bankruptcy led to its permanent closure. Utilizing both documentary evidence and the oral testimonies of more than 35 workers, the historical analysis that follows explores how managers' innovations, workers' agency, and the shifting tensions between these two groups resulted in several markedly different eras at Eastern. The beginnings of Eastern's unique work community are evident in the pages of The Mill. Published during the late 1910s and early '20s, the bi-monthly workers' newsletter is filled with "Safety First" slogans, sports teams and production competitions, and "brotherhood" and "cooperation" rhetoric, all of which demonstrates industrial America's mindset following both World War I and the scientific management era. Welfare capitalism and the "quest for efficiency" through systematization spurred innovative labor relations, leading to the development of a close-knit community of workers who took a greater interest in their mill, their work, and one another. Eastern's Annual Reports point to a shift at the Brewer Mill during the 1940s and '50s, when aggressive new marketing techniques and a burgeoning sales force demonstrate that customers and profit margins took precedence over labor relations. But by 1968, worker unity and agency culminated in a massive, community-wide effort to reopen the mill following its closure by Standard Packaging. Led by mill engineer Bruce Hamilton and several other local men, workers' efforts paid off when, six months later, the majority of Eastern Fine Paper employees were back to work. The two decades that followed marked Eastern's "Golden Years" under president Bruce Hamilton, figurehead of the "Eastern family" whose appreciation of his workers earned him their unrivaled loyalty and respect. During the "Hamilton Era" Eastern's cohesive working community again flourished, as evidenced by the parties, pranks, and pride in product described by employees in a series of oral histories conducted by the Maine Folklife Center. According to workers, Eastern's decline began in 1989, when Joseph Torras of Massachusetts-based Preco, Inc., purchased the mill, and immediately replaced local management like Hamilton with "outsiders" who did not understand or appreciate Eastern's unique history and culture. The alienation of its workforce ultimately led to the mill's permanent closure in January 2004.

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