A history of failed innovation: continuous cooking and the Soviet pulp industry, 1940s-60s
In the years before and after the Second World War, chemical and related industries in a variety of countries experienced a surge in innovation and development. Industrial scientists and engineers put their efforts toward developing new technologies and experimented with manufacturing new products for civilian and military use. As a result, the pulp and paper industry became a space for considerable innovation. In Sweden, Johan Richter developed the Kamyr digester, a pulp cooker that run continuously and was adopted by industry within a decade. Prior to Richter, Soviet engineer Leonid Zherebov designed a similar cooker, with the same purpose – to drastically increase the production of pulp. After twenty-five years of experiments, Zherebov’s design failed, and Soviet factories began to produce pulp using imported Kamyr digesters. This article examines the history of continuous pulp cooking in the Soviet Union in order to better understand the nature of Russian technological innovation and its failures. It emphasizes the communication between different institutions involved as well as a range of technological, social, economic and political factors. In addition, it studies how foreign technology was introduced into Soviet industry. The paper contends that technological failures were emerged from the failure of Soviet forestry as a technological system due to a lack of open discussion between its builders and the scarcity of resources required for innovation.