TidBits 026: The brown paper bag

The history of the paper bag begins in the USA in 1852 when Francis Wolle, a botanist born in Jacobsburg, Pennsylvania, invents a machine to produce these bags.

In 1869 Wolle and his brother establish Union Paper Bag Machine Company and open a factory in Savannah, Georgia, for the production of paper bags.

The following year Margaret Knight, an employee of the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, perfects the manufacturing process of the bag by inventing a device that cuts, folds and glues the bottom of the bag.

But before Ms. Knight has a chance to file her patent application, Charles Annan – who had seen this innovation in the factory where she worked – appropriates himself of the idea, making it his. When Ms. Knight (then 33 years old) decides on a court action to affirm her right to the invention, sustained by many witnesses, the treacherous Annan declares that, since Knight is a woman, she could not possibly understand the complexity of the machine’s mechanism... But the facts and the proof available convince the judge to recognize Knight’s right to the invention, which, in 1871, she is able to patent.

In 1883, Charles Stilwell invents a machine that produces a bag that “opens by itself” and hence its name: “S.O.S.” = Self-Opening Sack. The bag opened instantaneously and completely with a simple and quick motion of the wrist. Also, the folds allowed the sack to close so that they could be stacked oneon top of the other. But the feature that made these bags so beloved by grocers and customers was the fact that they could be made to stand up straight, completely open, without the need for any external intervention.

But since it is true that there is always room for improvement, it well worth it here to mention the enhancements brought by Walter Deubner who in 1912 owned a small grocery shop on St. Paul, Minnesota. Attentively watching his customers’ behavior, the grocer realized that they would purchase only that amount of groceries that they could easily carry. Dubner studied the problem carefully and perfected a bag strong enough to carry up to thirty kilograms, with useful handles made of rope. He patented it in 1915 and called it the “Deubner shopping bag.”

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