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To Thomas Jefferson from Robert R. Livingston, 28 February 1800

From Robert R. Livingston

New York 28th. Feby 1800

Dear Sir

Mr. Smith being just about to depart I have but a moments time to send you the proceedings of the Society for the promotion of Agriculture &c. in this State—In this you will find an important discovery of mine in the fabrication of paper from a very large species of conferva common in Hudsons river—I have proposed the experiment for many years back to the paper makers but could never get them to try it till after I had made last July with my own hands & sent them samples—I send you a sheet which was the first made at a mill […] contains 1/9th. rags—I have succeeded in rendering white by means of oxiginated muriatic acid yet I find today that some artist in Germany has worked successfully on the same material or a similar Species of it at the very time that I was engaged in the work here—I am indebted to you a long letter on the subject you mentioned to me & I think I have digested a plan for it which at the first moment of Leasure I will send you—I am Sir

with the most respectful esteem & regard Your Most Obt humbl. Servt

Robt R Livingston

RC (DLC); one word effaced; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas Peters Smith carried this letter; see Livingston to TJ, 4 June 1800. The Transactions of the Society, for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures. Instituted in the State of New-York. Part IV [Albany, 1799], 94–8, contained Livingston’s description of his experiments in making paper from conferva, a mossy form of aquatic algae. A friend volunteered to take 80 pounds of the water growth to a paper mill at Catskill, New York, where “by dint of arguments and brandy” he persuaded the workmen to make a trial with the material. Believing that the technique offered an economical substitute for linen rags in the manufacture of various kinds of paper, Livingston received a patent in October 1799 but never developed the idea commercially. A few experimenters in Europe had tried conferva as a source of paper pulp. The person in Germany whose work became known to Livingston may have been G. A. Senger, who in 1799 published a pamphlet on the subject printed on conferva paper (Dard Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft [New York, 1943], 236–7, 246, 249–50, 334, 345, 397n; George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746–1813 [New York, 1960], 284–6).

Subject you mentioned to me: see TJ to Livingston, 23 Feb. 1799.

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