Margaret E. Knight - Inventor of the modern paperbag



Margaret Eloise Knight (February 14, 1838 – October 12, 1914), perhaps the inventor whose products are used daily without a thought about who invented, she was working in a paper-bag factory when she devised a new way to put together the bags, through a new machine developed and invented by her, but this was only one of her many inventions.


With just a basic schooling under her belt, 12-year-old Knight entered a riverside cotton mill in Manchester to support her widowed mum. In an unsafe, hazardous factory setting, the preteen worked for low wages. One of the risks included the tendency of steel-tipped flying shuttles to get away from their looms, firing at high speed at the slightest mistake of the employee.The technically inclined Knight set out to remedy this, and before her thirteenth birthday, she devised a first shuttle restraint system that would quickly hit the cotton industry.


After civil war as an adult in 1867, she went to work at the Columbia Paper Bag Company located in Springfield, MA. She found that the paper bags they provide are weak and narrow; thus, she attempted to make them better by inventing a system that changed the way they did.In 1871, she attempted to secure the first patent for the device,but Charles F. Annan stole her idea and filed for a similar patent. After battling for days and costing hundreds of dollars, she was issued a patent at the age of 32. In fact, she earned 87 patents during her lifetime, 27 of which were for well-known inventions.

Improvement in paper feeding machines, 1871

Her several other inventions included a numbering machine, lid removing pliers, sash and a window frame , patented in 1894, and several devices relating to rotary engines, patented between 1902 and 1915Knight never married and passed away on October 12, 1914, at the age of 76.


Knight was a woman who patented several of her own inventions successfully, but it was not achieved with simplicity or without challenges. It was well known that although she was still employed at the cotton mill, Knight had not earned credit for her work as a young teenager and that she was not permitted to patent her own concept. While she surpassed several barriers in the life of women in the 1800s and was considered good,' she was never able to benefit from her designs because of her gender.


"Ethical teaching is weakened if it is tied up with dogmas that will not bear examination." - Margaret E. Knight







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