A Few Words from the Expert

So how did this all start? Where is it going? Which of life's big questions are being answered?

Photo of Ken It started innocently enough. In the 1980's an article in The Small Boat Journal caught my attention. It was about Jack Hazzard who had built a paper canoe, using brown paper and glue. At a Wood Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) summer convention I ran into Walter Fullam, who exhibited a boundless enthusiasm for the subject and offered me encouragement when I showed even a slight amount of interest. He had even built canoes from newspaper and wallpaper paste(!) and would occasionally show up at an East Coast boat show to build one in front of an amused audience. He spoke enthusiastically about the golden days of paper, but lacked much detail on the history. I became suspicious that there was an interesting story here, related to the history of technology.

A paper boat seemed like such an entertaining idea that a friend and I decided to try it ourselves, and used an existing hull as a mold. We met with acceptable success (perhaps because we cheated a bit on materials). I still, in 2011, have the paper/epoxy canoe and take it for the occasional paddle.

With a little research I quickly discovered that the leading (and almost only) 19th century paper boat firm of Waters & Sons had been located in not-so-far-off Troy, NY (I'm in Rochester, NY). I also found contradictory information in the few articles that I could find on paper hulls, so my interest was further piqued.

During the next several years I made several trips from Rochester to Troy. I spent a couple of days in the Library of Congress (this was before widespread use of the internet..... you actually had to go there to search the catalog. It's a lot easier today). I also made serious of use of my local public library, which has a lot of material from mid to late 1800's. I was fortunate to be able to schedule business or personal travel with some time built in for research at a number of other locations.

Unfortunately, while I think I know as much as anyone on the subject, (OK, I really think I know more than anybody), the record is still incomplete as:

For several years I published "The Paper Boater" in hopes of finding more information from a network of readers. This was a 2-4 page desktop publishing effort published approximately quarterly. I sent out about 100-125 issues each quarter, circulation occasionally getting a boost when we'd be noted in the "respectable" nautical press. The exercise yielded lots of nice letters, a lot of interesting information, fond memories, and a lot of fun but no extensive leads to historical information. (I must admit my interests are primarily historical, rather than building the darn things). So..... running out of material and feeling the need to move on, I moved on. But I had this shelf full of of information sitting in my home office.

With the growth of the internet I thought of starting a web page. This was inspired by finding an internet-based HTML tutorial from Maricopa Community College in Arizona. (The course is no longer available.) So after wading through these lessons, I floated Paper Boats on the internet about 15+ years ago. Since then I've studied up on XHTML and done some reformatting, rewriting, and incorporating of new information... mostly in 2009/2011. (For what it's worth, the W3 folks offer some great free on-line instruction and code validation once you master the basics.)

Hence the current pages, such as they are, lovingly hand-written without the use of iWeb or other canned web page programs. The results are obviously an exercise aimed more at substance than style. Fancy features and layouts we are not.

I finally retired from my "day job" in the autumn of 2005. So, I've had some time to push this to the next level. There is a problem, however! I've pretty well exhausted the information that seems to be readily available and the leads that I've been following have pretty much been dead-ends.

So.... if you have any information, suggestions, or general thoughts please let me know! If you'd like a bit more information I'd be happy to provide it and I thrive on even modest amounts of encouragement!

You can email me at "paperweb" (at) "frontier (dot) com" (I figure you can decode this. This is an attempt at decreasing spam by trying to outwit address harvesting software).

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© Ken Cupery 2011