At our home, a brown paper bag simply cannot be found. My wife prefers the plastic grocery bags, and since she does most of the shopping, that’s what we have. Admittedly, they come in handy with the family dog’s duties, but I cringe each time I see them blowing in tree branches or stuck in ditches. The better solutions are the reusable bags, but we don’t seem to remember to put them back in our vehicles after each use. Change isn’t easy. Thankfully, Margaret Knight didn’t give up that readily. 

Margaret is the inventor of the iconic flat-bottomed, brown-paper grocery bag. She envisioned this idea while working for the Colombia Bag Factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, where her job was to fold paper bags by hand. This was a slow and inefficient process that resulted in many irregularities in the bags. Margaret began to draw up plans for a machine that would automate the manufacturing of these paper bags so that the bottoms were flat. She filed for a patent for her invention but was surprised to learn that one had already been awarded to Charles Anon, a man who was familiar with her design. Margaret hired an attorney and sued, claiming this invention was her own. The court ultimately sided in Margaret’s favor, and she was awarded a patent for her machine in 1871. Although improvements have been made to her design over the years, Margaret’s bag is quite similar to the brown paper grocery bag still in use, albeit much less, today.

I thought of the brown paper bags when I heard a reference to elementary grade students who wrapped their textbooks in them and then customized the covers to their liking with crayons, markers or pens. I was one of those students, although I am not sure I could recall the exact cutting and taping process today. Margaret likely didn’t envision that use, but her invention clearly made grocery sacking, carrying and delivering much simpler. And if she were alive today, she would certainly cringe at the sight of the plastic bag waste, too. 

Paper or plastic? If you are given the option, think of Margaret before you answer next time. 

Have a terrific Tuesday, and thanks for reading.

Shane Goodman
Editor and Publisher
Times Vedette digital editions