Hollingsworth & Vose Company History
Specialty paper- and filter-maker Hollingsworth & Vose traces its roots to a pair of Massachusetts brothers – John Mark and Lyman Hollingsworth – who, during the tough economic times of the 1830s, discovered a way to turn old sail rope into rope paper. The paper they invented was exceptionally strong and turned out to have numerous industrial uses, and it propelled them into the paper business.
In 1852, the company purchased a paper mill in West Groton, where until 1881 they manufactured paper from jute and manila fiber for tag paper, pattern paper, abrasive backing and wrapping paper – paper products that became the standards of their era. The purchase of another mill in 1871 brought the company into the field of newsprint. Charles Vose entered the picture in 1881, when he formed a partnership with another member of the Hollingsworth family and purchased a mill from Lyman Hollingsworth. The new duo formed a company of their own under the name Hollingsworth & Vose and incorporated in 1892.
Clearly, there have been significant advances in the papermaking field in the past century, and Hollingsworth & Vose has remained on the front lines of the development. In 1920 the company began making gasket papers, and in 1933 it rolled out a line of saturating papers. An array of other products followed: air filters, microfiber glass fiber, wet-laid nonwovens. The growth of computer technology in the 1980s saw Hollingsworth & Vose emerge in additional markets, such as diskette liners, chemisorptive products and nanofiber coatings.
Today, Hollingsworth & Vose continues to create technical and filter papers, industrial and specialty papers, composites and nonwovens as well as HEPA filters, respiratory devices, gas masks and vacuum cleaners. The company remains based in East Walpole, Massachusetts, with plants and research facilities in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Products Manufactured by Hollingsworth & Vose that Contained Asbestos
Today, the thought of making cigarettes with asbestos sounds absurdly dangerous – but in the early and mid 1950s, that is precisely what cigarette manufacturers did. Lorillard Company, the manufacturer of Kent cigarettes, praised their asbestos-containing “micronite” cigarette filters as the safest and most effective on the market, bragging that the filter removed far more tar and nicotine than their competitors’. Ironically, the company took out full-page advertisements for their “micronite” filters in the Journal of the American Medical Association to spread the word about their health benefits.
Lorillard did not manufacture these so-called “safe” filters themselves; the company that actually made them was Hollingworth & Vose. From 1952 to 1956, Hollingsworth & Vose manufactured the “micronite” material using crocidolite asbestos, also known as “blue” asbestos, at its West Groton and Rochdale plants in Massachusetts. These filters were sold to Lorillard for use in Kent cigarettes and were distributed to smokers throughout the United States. It is estimated that more than 10 billion asbestos-containing Kent cigarettes were sold during their five years on the market.
Unfortunately, smokers at the time were unaware that when they smoked Kents, they were inhaling massive quantities of a deadly, cancer-causing material directly into their lungs. In addition to the regular ill health effects of smoking, users of “micronite” filters were breathing in millions of tiny asbestos particles that became lodged in their lungs, putting the smoker at grave risk for asbestos-related respiratory diseases like mesothelioma.
In 1954, two years after the asbestos cigarette filters were introduced, Lorillard conducted two studies to evaluate how much, if any, asbestos their customers were inhaling. According to articles on the subject, researchers discovered that just two puffs through the asbestos filters released more than three million asbestos fibers into the smokers’ lungs. Lorillard kept the results of that study quiet, though. While they did begin developing a new, non-asbestos cigarette filter, Lorillard kept selling the unsafe asbestos cigarettes until the new filter was introduced.
Hollingsworth & Vose used asbestos in other products as well, most notably in gas masks it manufactured for the U.S. military and in cellulose asbestos paper used in air filtration devices.
Products manufactured by Hollingsworth & Vose believed to have contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:
- “Micronite” cigarette filters, sold in Kent cigarettes from 1952-1956
- Gas Masks
- AEC Cellulose Asbestos Paper
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
Individuals most likely to suffer the ill effects of Hollingsworth & Vose asbestos filters are smokers. People who smoked Kent cigarettes between the years of 1952 and 1956 were all but guaranteed to be exposed to hazardous asbestos – and the more they smoked, the greater the potential damage to their health. Unfortunately, smokers are already at a significantly heightened risk for asbestos-related diseases; that is, smokers who were exposed to asbestos are more likely to be diagnosed with lung disease than non-smokers with the same amount of asbestos exposure. This makes the dangers associated with asbestos cigarettes even more severe.
Employees who worked in Hollingsworth & Vose factories in West Groton or Rochdale, Massachusetts or in Lorillard cigarette factories between 1952 and 1956 were also at a grave risk of exposure to deadly asbestos, as are members of the U.S. military who used Hollingsworth & Vose asbestos-containing gas masks.
Asbestos-related diseases have a very long latency period, meaning decades can elapse between the point of exposure and the time when symptoms begin to show. That means it is possible that a smoker, factory worker or veteran who was exposed to asbestos in the 1950s may just be seeing symptoms now, half a century later.
As of May 2011, numerous asbestos-related lawsuits have been filed against Hollingsworth & Vose by plaintiffs, particularly former Kent cigarette smokers, whose health was damaged by exposure to the company’s products. In many of these cases, the defendant has won; Hollingsworth & Vose and cigarette maker Lorillard have mostly been successful in defending themselves because plaintiffs have been unable to prove they smoke Kents or that it was the asbestos filter that caused them to become sick. But recently, there have been notable exceptions. In March 2011, a San Francisco jury found that Hollingsworth & Vose was liable for making a cigarette filter that failed to perform “as safely as an ordinary customer would have expected,” and ordered the plaintiff be paid $1.4 million in damages. Several former Lorillard employees have reached confidential out-of-court settlements, articles state.Sources
Hollingsworth & Vose Company
Hollingsworth & Vose Company – Wikipedia
Hollingsworth & Vose Company – BusinessWeek
“Heavy Breathing: The Makers of Kents Withheld information About Its Deadly Asbestos Filters”