The growth of Nashua over the past two centuries owes much to its industrial development. In the early 19th century industrial development was made possible by a combination of water power and water transportation access and centered on the Nashua Manufacturing Company which was incorporated in 1823 for the manufacture of cotton goods. Over the years, textile mills provided a solid economic base for the local economy and in turn stimulated other types of manufacturing. The construction of the Nashua and Lowell Railroad in 1838 was followed by additional lines from Concord, Worcester, Wilton and Portland. In the 1870s and 1880s textile manufacturing declined somewhat in importance to the local economy as a number of new industries established themselves near the railroads.
What would become the Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper Company and later Nashua Corporation began as a partnership of three local men who were going to make their fortune making playing cards to fill the demand for the product by gold rush miners. This company was known as Gill and Company and it was formed by Charles Gill, a book store owner and bookbinder, O.D. Murray, a publisher who had experience with printing wallpaper and machinist John H. Gage. In 1849 they built a building on the north side of Water Street. The company never actually made playing cards but instead manufactured cardboard and other paper products such as glazed paper. After Charles Gill's death, Gage sold his interest to Virgil Gilman. The company continued under several other names – Gage, Murray & Co. , Gilman Brothers and in 1869 the Nashua Card and Glazed Paper Company was formed by a consolidation of the Gilman Brothers and the Nashua Glazed Paper Company which had been founded by Col. John Fennimore March in 1865. By the 1870s the company was the largest manufacturing concern in the city with the exception of the cotton and iron mills. Virgil Gilman retired from the business in 1872 followed by O.D. Murray in 1883. At this time operations were centered at a factory on Pearson Avenue in Nashua.
In 1889 Nashua native and capitalist Harry G. Bixby secured control of the business and built the beginnings of the Franklin Street plant. In 1897 Judge Parker's History of Nashua, N.H. boasted it was "the largest and most perfectly equipped plant of its kind in the world". The new mill had a frontage of 315 feet on Franklin Street and was three stories in height with basement. The south elevation was four stories high with basement and the Front Street end was 100 feet deep. Projecting from the south side was a three-story, 40' x 80' annex. It was designed by architect W.B. Page of Clinton, Massachusetts and no expense was spared. The building's castle-like walls were topped by an ornamental crenellated battlement two and a half feet high that extended around the top of the entire building. The windows were filled with hammered glass from England. C.W. Stevens had the contract for the foundation and Smith & Lakeman were the brick masons. Ashley & Lund were the contractors for all the carpentry work. As originally configured, offices and the shipping department were located on the first floor of the Front Street end. The remainder of the first floor consisted of a 251' x 63' finishing room where flint glazing, friction glazing and embossing took place. The second floor of the mill contained the coloring machines and was used for drying the paper. A small area at the southwest corner contained a room for mixing colors. On the third floor were the sheet coloring machines, hand pasting and hand coloring functions. The basement was devoted to machinery and storage. All of the coating processes in the new factory were done on machines and nearly all of the products including card board, pasted bristols, etc. were manufactured in rolls. Modern drying equipment had not yet been invented, so that the stock passed on driers, extending from the basement to the roof, after it was pasted. The three-story annex was used for machine web pasting and hand pasting. Each level of the building was equipped with automatic sprinklers and steam heat, lit by incandescent lights and had its own toilet room. The original chimney was 112 feet high and located on the south side of the building, 80 feet from the Front Street end. It measured 9' x 8' at the base and five feet at the top with an ornamental copper cap. Construction of the building employed an average of fifty men and consumed approximately 1.2 million bricks. When completed, the building was to contain more than one hundred workers.
The Nashua Card and Glazed Paper Company was in operation here for about ten years before it was sold. Elsewhere, in 1898 another competitor, Carter Rice and Co. of Boston bought out a gummed paper manufacturer in Rockport, Massachusetts and moved their business to South Boston. But six years later on February 22, 1904, when that plant burned to the ground, the company needed to acquire a new manufacturing facility. The company purchased the heavily-in-debt Nashua Card and Glazed Paper firm and the Franklin Street factory for $74,000 plus mortgage. They had moved their equipment and inventory to Nashua by the end of May.
Thus, in 1904 the Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper Company was formed to take over the coating business of the Nashua Card and Glazed Paper Company. By this time, cardboard production had for the most part moved west and the manufacture of flint glazed papers had become unprofitable. The newly organized company put its emphasis on the production of friction glazed papers and the manufacture of gummed papers including sealing tape. In its first year of operation the Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper Company had 70 employees and sales of $234,000. In 1907 a new and important product, waxed paper, was added to the company line. Its major use at the time was to wrap loaves of bread.
A new boiler plant with two 200 H.P. was constructed in 1908 across the railroad tracks from the main mill and was expanded by two more boilers two years later. In 1910 the original building was expanded by the addition of a fourth story. The addition was designed by the office of prominent mill engineer Charles T. Main of Boston. The same year internal improvements occurred as well. A plant telephone was added and new office machinery was installed. The company also hired its first chemist, laying the foundation for modern research and development. The former W.D. Brackett Shoe Factory on East Hollis Street was leased to accommodate the waxed paper division.
In 1916 the name of the company was changed from the Nashua Card Gummed & Coated Paper Company to the Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper Company. World War I resulted in increased business for the company and necessitated improvements in the handling of colors in the Coating Division, additional storage space and a larger loading platform adjoining the railroad track. As a result, a wooden monitor was constructed on top of the west end of the mill for a mixing room to allow the colors to be mixed there and then flow by gravity to the coating machine floor. The upper level of the penthouse served as the laboratory for the chemist. At the same time a covered shipping platform was constructed. In 1913 the mill building was extended to the east and another storehouse was constructed on the south elevation. Charles T. Main again served as engineer for the additions.
After World War I, the company opened a subsidiary in Canada, the Canadian Nashua Paper Company, to avoid the high trade tariffs. In 1921 the company expanded into another important product line with the purchase of National Binding Company of New York and the manufacture of packing and adhesive tape. It was this kind of diversification as well as streamlining efforts that cushioned the company from the negative effects of the Depression felt by other local companies in the 1930s.
In 1937 additional large improvements were made to the physical plant with the construction of a four-story reinforced concrete and brick veneered addition containing 75,000 square feet at the east end of the complex. The building was intended to provide facilities for the newly established printed cellophane business and for storage. It was constructed by the Morton C. Tuttle Company of Boston. At the same time a modern administration building was erected west of the main structure (44 Franklin Street). News of the additions was praised in the local newspaper which stated "Since its location here shortly after the turn of the century the company has given unusually steady employment to a considerable share of Nashua's wage workers and is rightfully listed as one of Nashua's back-bone industries" (Telegraph, May 8, 1937).
The steady growth of the company continued in the 1940s. In 1940 the laboratory in the rooftop, monitor story, was enlarged. During World War II the Company ventured into other areas of manufacturing including the production of power resistors for radar, raincoats, ponchos, protective covers against gas, M-14 primer detonators, M-115 bomb fuse adapters, documents for duplicating and ordinance wrap. At the end of the war, all of these products were dropped from production to be replaced by new items including heat seals, flat gummed papers, heat sensitive chart papers and corrugated tape. In March 1946 the company announced plans to construct a new five-story, 100,000 square foot factory on the south side of the railroad tracks for manufacturing and storage. A bridge connected the third floor of the new building to the second story of the Franklin Street factory to permit the ready handling of materials and supplies from one building to the other. Like the 1937 addition, it was constructed by the Morton C. Tuttle Company of Boston.
In the late 1940s, the leadership of the Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper Company was instrumental in local economic development efforts after the decline of the textile industry and Nashua Manufacturing Company ultimately led to the departure of Textron, the successor firm. The Nashua-NH Foundation (the non-profit corporation established to acquire the holdings of the former Nashua Manufacturing Company) was formed with capital from seven local banks and businesses including Nashua Gummed & Coated Paper. In 1949 the company purchased the former North Storehouse of the Nashua Manufacturing Company (30 Front Street). The concrete block storage buildings at 31 and 33 Front Street and the metal storage shed behind 31 Front Street were acquired in 1950. In 1952 the company was renamed the Nashua Corporation (also known as Nashua Corp.).
The 1960s marked a period of expansion for Nashua Corp. as it acquired a number of smaller companies including Gubelman Chart Co. (1961), Copycat Corp. (1962), Copycat Ltd. of England (1963) and Paramount Paper Products of Omaha, Nebraska. In Nashua, a motor freight building (36 Front Street) was added to the factory complex in 1962 and a large addition was constructed at the west end of the mill at 25 Front Street in 1967. In 1967 Nashua Corp.'s common stock was traded for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1969 a new facility for coated paper products was constructed in Merrimack and a technology center office building was constructed at 55 Franklin Street in Nashua.
Nashua Corp. began to manufacture diskettes for computers in the 1970s and also acquired mail-order finishing companies. By 1977 Nashua Corp. had subsidiaries in ten countries and distribution in about 90 others. In the 1970s Nashua Corp. was the first U.S. Company to retain Dr. W. Edwards Demming, known now as the father of quality control and business effectiveness in the United States.
By the early 1980s the company employed about 6,000 persons worldwide including three facilities in New Hampshire and 14 plants around the world. Nashua Corp. was then made up of four main divisions: photo finishing, coated paper, office supplies and computer products. In addition to Merrimack, major production facilities were located in Omaha, Nebraska and Jefferson City, Tennessee.
In the years that followed the company divested non-core divisions to focus on specialty paper products, toner products and labels. In the 1990s Nashua Corp. became the nation's biggest supplier of thermal pressure-sensitive labels to the supermarket industry and also found a niche in remanufactured laser cartridges. By the mid 1990s, however, the company entered a period of contraction. By 1995 the company had sold its computer and tape products divisions and moved its headquarters from Nashua to Merrimack. The facility in Nashua continued to house the imaging division which made toner for printers and copiers while the Merrimack facility produced thermal-coated and fax paper. In 1997 the building at 34 Franklin Street was sold to the Grace Fellowship of Nashua. In 1998 the company sold its photofinishing operations and two years later sold most of its remaining buildings in downtown Nashua. They continued to use the North Store House until late 2005. The property was subsequently acquired by The Stabile Company.
In recent years Nashua Corp. has focused on labels and other specialty paper products including duct tape, deli labels and the paper used to print movie theater tickets. In September 2009 Nashua Corp. was sold to a Connecticut company, Conveo Inc., best known for labels and recognized as the country's third largest graphics communication company.