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The Origin of the Paper Bag

Margaret Knight went to work in a cotton mill in New Hampshire when she was only ten years old. After all, that was in 1848, and her widowed mother needed every penny the family could earn. Knight was smart and had a talent for making things even as a child, when she fashioned toys for her brothers and their friends.

By the time she joined the Columbia Paper Bag Company as a lowly factory worker, the 30-something, unmarried Knight had spent years as a ‘Jill-of-all-trades’, becoming proficient in daguerreotype, photography, engraving, house repair and upholstering. Spending long hours at the factory, she soon heard of current efforts to create a machine that could efficiently manufacture flat-bottomed paper bags. ‘I am told that there is no such machine known as a square-bottomed machine,’ she wrote in her journal. ‘I mean to try away at it until I get my ideas worked out.’ Independent of the factory and without her bosses’ knowledge, Knight began to study the issue intently.

And she got her ideas worked out. Knight designed a machine that would manufacture flat-bottomed paper bags so that they could be mass-produced. The trouble was that a man who’d seen her invention had gone ahead and patented it. That meant war. Read about Margaret Knight and her invention at Aeon.  -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user hellonoelani)


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