paper bag

In Praise of the Humble Paper Bag

Instead of making an overwrought, nationalistic, fake patriotic post about America I would like to post in praise of the humble paper bag.  You often overlook little

things in life. It is human nature to get wrapped up in life and take for granted all the incredible inventions we have been given the privilege to use. As I was unpacking my restaurant bought barbecue, buns and sides it occurred to me that the brown paper bag was a true marvel of ingenuity. I also realized that I knew next to nothing about it’s origins and history.  So without further adieu, here is a bit of info to expand your horizon on this independence day.

It’s the unsung hero of the modern lunch, the container from which countless school children have drawn nourishment and Twinkies over the years. Now, suddenly, the humble brown paper bag is at the heart of a dispute: Who designed it and when? Apparently, paper bags were the smartphones of the mid-19th century: The business was filled with multiple players jockeying for position with incessant innovation. Early on, Francis Wolle’s Pennsylvania-based Union Paper Bag Machine Company competed against industrialist New Yorker George West, aka “the Paper Bag King.” (Yes, really.)


paper bag

Knight’s paper bag machine

The REAL design genius behind the brown bag was Margaret Knight of the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Massachusetts. She pioneered the flat-bottomed bag design we still use today, which was much stronger than Wolle’s version. That’s right a woman made a man’s invention much better (as it happens in most cases).

The paper bag-folding machine was not Knight’s only invention. Besides devices that improved her paper bag machine, her other inventions included a new window frame and sash design, a numbering machine, an automatic boring tool, and a spinning or sewing machine. The total number of her inventions is generally thought to be eighty-nine. They earned her a good deal of money, but when she died in 1914 her fortune had dwindled down to a mere $300

So there you have it a bit of history on the ubiquitous “sack” we all take for granted.

More info and a lengthier, albeit, fascinating article can be found

over here:


About JayCooper

Puzzled WebWizard from Mount Juliet Tennessee. Married for 25+ years to a wonderful wife with three grown sons.

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