Letter: Easter Sunday 1368, a lesson in hope, innovation

Posted 4/1/20

To the editor:

The ability to communicate and globally exchange knowledge connects us all. We have instant updates of this unique global threat known as the Coronavirus.

We will overcome the …

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Letter: Easter Sunday 1368, a lesson in hope, innovation

Posted

To the editor:

The ability to communicate and globally exchange knowledge connects us all. We have instant updates of this unique global threat known as the Coronavirus.

We will overcome the threat. Technology and free enterprise will rally together and find a solution, in all probability the quest for the answer will lead to other beneficial discoveries.

Life will resume to normality and once again our concerns will be directed to the economy and the environment.

However as history tells us, there have in the past been many, many moments we were not aware of, when global altering calamities where averted by technology and the innovative nature of mankind and the drive of a competitive economy.

Wood, a vital material in our lives.

In the early 14th century, the end of the Middle Ages, Europe enjoyed a growth in population and living standard.

Buildings, of all kinds, cathedrals and other public gathering spaces take shape. Warfare is getting more refined and with it the demand for iron to produce firearms, both large and small. This rapidly growing activity in building together with the growing need for metal obtained by smelting with charcoal, is rapidly depleting the forests of Europe. The supply of wood had always been taken for granted as being the product of a never failing part of nature. Because there was no global  communication, the increasing shortage of wood did not raise any great concerns among the population that was finally enjoying a better quality of life. 

As a result of their extensive travels, two brothers, Ulman and Peter Strohmer, born in 1315 and  1329 in Nuremberg, Germany, owners of one of the largest merchant enterprises of the time, which extended from Poland to the Black Sea, Spain, Venice and as far south as Sicily, were owners of mines and other emerging industries. They became aware of changes in the environment with the disappearance of forests. 

In order to maintain the success of their businesses and ensure the supply of their all-important raw material… wood… as well as securing the emerging economy and maintaining the  status of  Nuremberg as a major center of innovation in its time, they needed to act. The economic momentum and demand for goods would have to be maintained.

While learning to run the family business, they both had traveled throughout Europe. They had noted the climate differences in heavily wooded locations  compared to more barren landscapes, and also that forests do not necessarily regrow. A careful systematic plan was developed. 

The brothers were going to approach the experiment like a farmer planting grain. Tree climbing harvesters picked the healthiest cones from the straightest evergreens. These seeds were dried and protected from mold and mice until spring. The brothers developed a special deep plow to prepare the forest soil. They grew seedlings and  were at last ready to embark on the experiment.

On Easter Sunday, 1368, the family and servants gathered at the edge of Imperial Forests to plant in the freshly tilled soil. The initial planting of about 400 acres grew to become the first needle forest of carefully spaced trees from selected seeds. It became the foundation of forestry practices that were to be followed many times over in Europe. 

This leap of faith, generated by need, resulted in an abundance of wood. As a result the family built the first paper mill in  northern Europe and developed the making of paper from wood to supplement the rag cloth paper. The booming industries of Nuremberg required paper for packaging goods for transport. This affordable supply of paper was to be the catalyst for affordable printed information for the public. When Gutenberg’s printing press was invented circa 1450, it became the vehicle for all populations to be informed ... leading to the Age of Enlightenment.

Unlike seven centuries ago, we now have the advantage of global communication.  The environmental challenges we face will be met by global knowledge and technological innovations and a desire for a good life and economic prosperity for all.

(Ulman Strohmer was one of my ancestors.)

Barbara Pelletier,

Tiverton

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