July 11, 2017 – Zaandam, Netherlands – The Declaration of Independence was written on paper from a paper mill in De Zaan, Netherlands.
The mill De Schoolmeester (the Schoolmaster) was built in 1692 and is the oldest working paper mill in the world.
Arie Butterman, 62, is the keeper of the mill. He started when he was 18 years old. “I must like what I do,” he said.
Dressed in one-piece blue overalls, Arie is the lone caretaker of the paper process and the mill.
There used to be 13 full-time employees and 5 to 10 rag tearers.
While paper is usually made from wood products, the product at De Schoolmeester is made using rags, textile industry waste, flax and hemp.
“The windmill is just the engine to keep the factory going,” said Arie.
Today the wind is strong and the mill is pounding out a deafening rhythm as it pummels the rags into a green stock of mush.
The white squares of flax are stored in a northern section of the mill next to stables of rags piled high in a mound. A box of random buttons and clasps sits on a shelf near a window.
The dark mill has the feel of a Jewish concentration camp.
Torn pieces of rag are placed in the tamper barrel where they are chopped into smaller pieces.
In the beater tubs the material is mixed with water and pounded until the fibers separate.