The first paper business in Morris was the Allen Paper Car Wheel Works, which functioned as a straw milling operation for the Pullman Palace Car Co. in Chicago.
The business was named for Richard N. Allen, a former locomotive engineer and master mechanic of the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad, who invented and patented the paper car wheel in Brandon, Vermont, in 1869.
After testing and perfecting the wheel, the Pullman Palace Car Co. gave the first order for 100 wheels in 1871.
Allen soon established a main plant in Hudson, New York, in 1873, and eventually relocated the plant on the grounds of Pullman’s Chicago works.
By 1881, the Allen Paper Car Wheel Co. had shops in New York and Chicago, and a processing plant in Morris, and managed to produce and sell thousands of wheels each year.
The plant straw was pulped, made into board, and cut into circles, which created the core for the steel-tired composite wheels for Pullman.
The paper core helped to absorb the shock from the track and provide a quieter, smoother ride for the traveler.
The “paper wheel” is made up of a disk of compressed paper, surrounded by a steel tire, and fitted with a cast-iron hub, which is bored for the axle. Wrought-iron plates protect the paper disk on either side, and all are bolted together by two circles of bolts.
The paper wheels were standard on Pullman trains until the turn-of-the-century, when railroad companies switched from wood to steel cars.
These new cars were considerably heavier and produced a greater braking load on the wheels. Paper wheels were considered unsafe for use by the early 1920s. Located on East North Street, the Allen Paper Car Wheel Works operated until 1890, when it was turned over to John N. Bunnell and changed its name to the American Straw Board Co.
Over the next two decades, the business and plant was leased, sold and restructured and operated under different names, including the Morris Box Board Co.
In October 1915, the business reorganized and was incorporated as the Morris Paper Mills.
By the 1920s, the paper mill became one of Morris’ largest employers and produced boxes of every kind, color and size that were shipped all over the country.