It was Margaret Knight who first came up with the idea of a paper bag, way back in 1871. She was working in a cotton mill in Springfield, Massachusetts when the idea struck her, and she quickly went on to invent a machine which would fold and glue paper to form the flat-bottom brown paper bag.
Unfortunately, building the machine and claiming credit for it were not to be the same. While working on the prototype model, someone saw what she was constructing and then stole the idea for themselves, applying for a separate patent before she got the chance.
Knight filed and won a Patent Interference Lawsuit, making the machine hers once again – although some people still question exactly who the original inventor was. Knight went on to form the Eastern Paper Bag Company, and received well-deserved royalties for the rest of her life. By the time she passed away, she had a total of 87 US patents to her name.
However, it took a store owner named Walter H. Deubner to realize the paper bag’s full potential. He noticed that his customers were only buying as much as they could carry at one time. If they could carry more, he correctly reasoned, they would also buy more. He improved the paper bag by reinforcing it with cord, creating a Deubner Shopping Bag capable of carrying up to 75 pounds. He was selling more than 1 million per year by 1915.
Deubner wasn’t aware of it, but he’d started a green revolution years ahead of its time! Customers continued to use their paper bags time after time due to their durability and longevity – just as people do today. Soon enough, the ubiquitous paper bag lunches started to appear, and paper bags became popular all over the world.
People still depend on them today, especially with the rising awareness of how plastic bags impact the environment. Just like those in Deubner’s time, we’re looking to these simple to make, reusable, and now easy to recycle paper bag options. We think he and Margaret Knight would both be pretty proud of their accomplishment.