Clothes that have been preserved tell important things about pioneer life. But so do the clothes that wore out, said Mary Teresa Anderson, an archivist with the LDS Church Archives.
Many people don't realize, she said, that for a time the pioneers collected old clothes for the purpose of making paper.
"A man named George Goddard was called on a rag mission by Brigham Young. From 1861 to 1864, his job was to go throughout the territory asking people to donate rags to make paper to print the Deseret News," said Anderson, who talked about the mission as part of a DUP open house for its new clothing gallery.
Linen, cotton, hemp and even wallpaper were collected. A papermaking facility was set up on South Temple. "They used primitive methods," she explained. "They pulverized the rags between two rocks, then added water to make a pulpy mixture, which was put into a mold. The water was squeezed out and the paper left to dry. It is flabbergasting to think what they went through to put out the paper."
Eventually a mill was set up at what is now 2100 South and Highland Drive. "The rag trade lasted for 20 years, and then they set up a paper mill using lumber at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon." But when that mill burned down in 1893, that was the last of paper-making efforts by the pioneers, she said.
Goddard was very successful in his mission. In the first 10 months, he collected nearly 20,000 pounds of rags. During his three-year mission, he gathered more than 100,000 pounds.
If you think about it, she said, you realize that was during the Civil War, and it was difficult to get paper from mills in the East.
Of course, cloth was scarce, too. "And there were people who would rather wear their clothes than read them," says Anderson. "But recycling is not a 20th-century phenomenon. Every ounce of what they had was used and reused. It goes hand-in-hand with the idea of home industry and being self-sufficient."