By Joseph Sturdevant
Maine has a long history of interesting mills beyond shoe manufacturing. According to an August 26, 1943 article in the Rumford Times, the Forster Mill in Wilton
Maine was the first mill in the world to manufacture toothpicks. There were places that produced small amounts, but Owner Charles Forster learned at the turn of the century that “people would pay good money for slivers of wood.”
Charles, a Buckfield native, went to Brazil as captain of a schooner owned by L. L. Tower and others of Boston, remaining for several years, and while there became interested in watching some of the natives whittling toothpicks from Spanish willow. In 1865 he went to Boston where he began to work for America’s first and most inovative fan company. They also were manufacturers of wooden shoe pegs which were made by a process similar to that now used for the manufacture of toothpicks.
Watching the shoe pegs as they came in a stream from the choppers gave him the idea that toothpicks could also be produced in large numbers by the same or similar process and after due time he suggested to the owner that they make some and put them on the market. Mr. Sturtevant smiled at the idea of trying to sell “slivers of wood” but he allowed Mr. Forster the use of some of his machines and also allowed space in a building owned by Mr. Sturtevant on Sudbury street in Boston, and one of his staff to assist him.
He had white birch shipped from Wilton, Maine to experiment, and this is likely the first wood ever made for toothpicks. His first attempts to sell were to stationary stores, and they were successful.