Margaret E. Knight

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Margaret E. Knight (February 14, 1838 – October 12, 1914) was an American inventor, notably of the flat-bottomed paper bag. She has been called "the most famous 19th-century woman inventor".[1]

Early life[edit]

Margaret Knight was born on February 14th, 1838 in York, Maine to James Knight and Hannah Teal. Her father died when she was a little girl. She received a basic education, but had to leave school at 12 in order to work at a cotton mill for several years.[citation needed]


In 1868, while living in Springfield, Massachusetts, Knight invented a machine that folded and glued paper to form the flat-bottomed brown paper bags familiar to shoppers today. Knight built a wooden model of the device, but needed a working iron model to apply for a patent. Charles Annan, who was in the machine shop where Knight's iron model was being built, stole her design and patented the device. Knight filed a successful patent interference lawsuit and was awarded the patent in 1871.[2] With a Massachusetts business partner, Knight established the Eastern Paper Bag Co. and received royalties.

Her many other inventions included a numbering machine, a window frame and sash, patented in 1894, and several devices relating to rotary engines, patented between 1902 and 1915.[3]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Knight was awarded the Decoration of the Royal Legion of Honour[citation needed] by Queen Victoria in 1871.[4][better source needed]

Knight never married and died on October 12, 1914 at the age of 76.

A plaque recognizing her as the "first woman awarded a U.S. patent" and holder of 87 U.S. patents hangs on the Curry Cottage at 287 Hollis St in Framingham. However, Knight was not actually the first: either Mary Kies or Hannah Slater has that honour.[5][6][7][8]

Knight was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.[9] The original bag-making machine is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C..


Works about her[edit]

  • McCully, Emily Arnold. Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. 32pp. ISBN 0-374-34810-3. (Children's book which was recognized as one of the "best feminist books for young readers, 2007," awarded by the Amelia Bloomer Project of the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Petroski, Henry (2003). Small Things Considered. New York: Vintage Books. p. 101. ISBN 1-4000-3293-8. 
  2. ^ U.S. Patent 116,842 Improvement in Paper-Bag Machines, July 11, 1871.
  3. ^ "Knight, Margaret E." Encyclopædia Britannica 2005 Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Svs - article 9125831.
  4. ^ Challoner, Jack. (editor) 1001 Inventions That Changed The World 2009 - Flat-bottomed Paper Bag (1868), p 381.
  5. ^ Blakemore, Erin. "Meet Mary Kies, America's First Woman to Become a Patent Holder". Retrieved 2016-08-11. 
  6. ^ "Women Inventors | History Detectives | PBS". Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  7. ^ "First Women Inventors | History of American Women". Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  8. ^ "10 Key Dates in Women's History: The Early Modern Period | Britannica Blog". Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  9. ^ "Inventor profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

External links[edit]