In 1927, Owen R. Cheatham founded this company in Augusta, Georgia as the Georgia Hardwood Lumber Co., a wholesaler of hardwood lumber, and by 1938 the company operated five sawmills in the South. 1941 to 1945 saw it act as the largest lumber supplier to the U.S. armed forces and in 1947, Cheatham’s company acquired its first west coast facility, a plywood plant in Bellignham, Washington. That same year it established a wholesale distribution warehouse and distributing yard and enjoyed sales totaling $24 million.
In 1948, the company’s name changed to Georgia-Pacific Plywood & Lumber Co. and it added plywood mills at both Olympia, Washington and Springfield, Oregon. 1949 saw the Georgia-Pacific Plywood & Lumber Co. become a publicly-traded company, as she was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. That same year it acquired a hardwood plywood plant in Savannah, Georgia and saw sales reach $37 million.
In 1951, the company’s name again changed, this time to Georgia-Pacific Plywood Co. It also acquired the C.D. Johnson Lumber Corp., of Toledo, Oregon. In 1953, Georgia Pacific’s headquarters moved to Olympia, Washington, and in 1954 they moved again, this time to Portland, Oregon. 1956 saw the company’s acquisition of the Coos Bay Lumber Co., Hammond Lumber Co. and another name change to Georgia-Pacific Corp. The addition of 10 distribution centers brought its total to 40 and sales to $121 million for 1956.
1957 signaled Georgia Pacific’s entrance into the pulp and paper business at Toledo, Oregon, as it constructed a kraft pulp and linerboarder mill. 1959’s addition of 15 distribution centers brought the total to 60. Georgia-Pacific Corp. also bought out the Booth-Kelly Lumber Co. and opened its first resin adhesive plant at Coos Bay, Oregon.
Success continued into the 1960s, as it acquired W. M. Ritter Lumber Co. and timberlands of over 1 million acres which contained oil, coal and other minerals. After adding paper converting facilities in Washington, California, Iowa, Illinois and Arkansas, the company built a corrugated container plant at Olympia, Washington. The manufacturer bought out more companies throughout that decade and added another 565,000 acres of timberlands in 1962. 1963 saw the company enter the tissue business and she began operating the nation’s first Southern pine plywood plant at Fordyce.
Bestwall Gypsum Co. was acquired in 1965 and Georgia Pacific expanded paper and chemical facilities while distribution centers totaled 84. More mill and plant acquisitions followed in that decade, in addition to plant expansion. She also bought up chemical plants in 1966, and in 1968, began construction of large chemical refining complex in Louisiana. That year, sales topped $1 billion for the company.
In 1973, the company’s sales reached $2.2 billion and two years later Georgia Pacific operated more than 140 distribution centers and more than 200 plants and mills. Although the company employed 33,500 by 1975, this was during the period when the company used asbestos in its manufacturing, exposing countless workers to this material. In fact, from 1965 until 1977, the company used this material, likely exposing countless employees over a period that spanned more than a decade. Furthermore, the company’s rapid expansion and competitor take-over at a time without asbestos materials legislation meant many employees of these new facilities suffered asbestos exposure due to the insulation’s unaddressed existence in these facilities.
The 1980s saw the company’s product line expand as it continued to buy up competitor companies. Existing facilities also expanded, and in 1982, the company’s headquarters again moved, this time to Atlanta, Georgia. After various sales and acquisitions, they entered the bath tissue market with the introduction of Angel Soft in 1986. 1987 saw Georgia Pacific’s purchase of more businesses and 200,000 additional acres of timberland. More than 650,000 acres of timberland were then added in 1988 and sales reached $9.5 billion.
1990 saw the completed merger with Great Northern Nekoosa Corp., adding mills, plants and distribution centers. Georgia Pacific’s sales reached $12.2 billion that year. By 1995, those sales had again increased to $14.3 billion, and in 1999, Georgia-Pacific Group split stock 2 for 1. More competitor acquisitions occurred at the end of the 1990s. Georgia Pacific saw sales total $22 billion in 2000 and in 2002, the company celebrated her 75th year of operation. In 2005, the company was acquired by Koch Industries in a $21 billion transaction and it again became a privately held, wholly owned subsidiary.
Today, Georgia Pacific manufactures the following types of products:
- Agricultural Gypsum
- Air Gels
- Firedoor Components
- Gypsum Board
- Gypsum Plaster
- Industrial Wipers
- Joint Treatment & Texture
- Lotioned Towels
- Pressure Treated Wood
- Skin Care
- Wood Products
Despite recognition for its successful products and charitable contributions over the last two decades, by 2005 the company was spending $200 million annually to address asbestos claims and was building a $1.5 billion fund for asbestos-related litigation costs. Georgia Pacific’s 1965 acquisition of Bestwall Gypsum likely led to most of these lawsuits, as some of its gypsum products continued to be produced
with asbestos, even more than a decade after being bought by the successful Georgia Pacific. Specifically, joint systems products produced from that new acquisition posed the greatest threat of causing
asbestos fiber exposure. This risk extended from 1965 until the formal recognition of this material’s dangers by the Environmental Protection Agency, in
1977. It was not until this 1977 legislation that Georgia Pacific was forced to discontinue their use of this material.
Furthermore, many of the chemical plants and other factory acquisitions likely contained asbestos as insulation and in machine parts, putting employees at an increased risk every year as the company grew and expanded their workforce. Although federal regulation did not formally recognize the dangers of asbestos exposure to individuals until the 1970s, strong evidence suggests major corporations, like Georgia Pacific, knew of the asbestos exposure risks much earlier, yet failed to adequately warn or protect employees.
Consumer products that may have contained asbestos fibers and put consumers at risk of asbestos exposure include:
- All Purpose Joint Compound
- Dry Mixed Joint Compound
- Drywall Adhesive
- Joint Compound
- Ready Mix Joint Compound
- Speed Set Joint Compound
- Triple Duty Joint Compound
In addition to their threat to consumers at the time of their initial manufacture and use, these products pose a continued threat today, as these materials age and deteriorate. Renovation and demolition of these homes and buildings continues to pose a significant threat to employees of the construction and demolition trades as they expose and disturb these materials.
Despite the lung scarring and eventual tumor development employees of these facilities and those in the construction trades experienced, many company executives ignored or purposely downplayed these risks, choosing to continue using these dangerous materials and see their profits grow instead of protecting employees and consumers. Furthermore, the diseases resulting from exposure to tiny asbestos fibers typically take 20 to 50 years to develop, allowing such company abuses to continue for decades until waves of individuals eventually show that the signs of such prolonged exposure are not isolated incidents, but indications of a pattern of corporate negligence.