"There was water everywhere," Milos Krofta remembers. It was 1935 in Ljubljana, then in Yugoslavia, at the country's largest and most advanced papermaking factory. It was always wet; water was always spraying from some pipe or dripping from a vat or leaking from a valve. It bothered him. A blond, erect, fastidious young man who had been the youngest engineering graduate in the history of the local university, he was now studying for his doctorate in paper manufacture at a leading technical university of the day, Darmstadt in Germany. Between his trips north to the school, he was also working as an assistant technical manager in the plant, assigned to find ways of reducing the costs of production. The son of one of the owners of the company, he expected soon to play a still more significant role. And he kept slipping on water.
It was perfectly natural for a paper mill to be wet. Papermaking is mainly a matter of processing an array of fluids. Although the final product is a tissue of dry cellulosic fibers, for most of the productive steps the moving pulp, the so-called half-stuff, is a slurry of between 95 and 99 percent water. This flux of intact and freely flowing cellulose fibers is beaten into a cohesive pulp. Then the "white water" residue left over from the pulping process is recirculated to dilute the mixture and speed its flow. Spread into a thin homogeneous film or web, it runs down a wire-mesh screen that finally strains away the water, leaving the fibers and fillers to be shaped, dried, heated, treated, and gently rocked and rolled into paper, while the wastes are flushed away and forgotten.