Inventor Spotlight: Margaret Knight

C4IP is recognizing Margaret Knight, one of the most prolific female inventors of the 19th century. She is best known for her invention of a machine for producing paper bags.

  • Knight was born in York, Maine, in 1838, and worked in textile mills from a very early age following the death of her father.
    • She created her first invention at the age of 12, which was a safety device to protect workers using textile looms.
  • Knight is most famous for inventing a machine to mass produce flat-bottomed paper bags, which were previously considered more of a specialty item and required the labor of 30 people.
    • She patented her invention in 1871 and later secured another patent for improvements to her original design in 1879.
    • She founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company in Hartford, Connecticut to commercialize the bags, which soon became ubiquitous for their simple utility.
  • The royalties from Knight’s patented invention allowed her to become a full-time inventor, and over the course of her career, she registered more than 26 patents covering diverse technologies.
  • The paper bag industry is still going strong: Americans use more than 10 billion of the bags each year, and the global market for them is estimated at $5.6 billion.
    • Environmental considerations could soon push paper bags’ popularity higher, with nearly three-quarters of Americans favoring them over plastic bags on eco-friendliness.
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