They’re used worldwide by every one of us. You may be holding one right now. Or have a cabinet where you keep them neatly folded. They’re flat bottomed paper bags, and the machine that makes them was invented by Margaret E. Knight. She was one of the first women to hold a patent, which she was awarded in 1870. Up to that point, shoppers were forced to stuff their purchases into bags shaped like envelopes, or carry them home in wooden crates. Flat bottomed bags were available, but had to be made by hand which made them costly and rare.
While working at the Columbia Paper Bag Company, Margaret studied the machinery. With no training in engineering, at night she’d go home and draw up blueprints designing a machine that would make paper bags. Once she’d made a working model, she hired a machinist to build an iron version.
Unfortunately, a man named Charles Annan saw her machine in the shop when it was being cast, copied it and filed for the patent.
Refusing to let what was rightfully hers be stolen, Margaret traveled to Washington with her models, photos and drawings to set the record straight.
Annan’s only defense that he had invented the machine and not Margaret was that a woman couldn’t invent such a complicated machine.
Fortunately, truth was on Margaret’s side and after sixteen days of testimony, she was awarded her patent.
So the next time someone tells you you’re not smart enough to do something because you’re female, or the cashier asks if you’d like paper or plastic, remember to thank a woman, thank Margaret E. Knight.