Margaret E. Knight

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Margaret E. Knight
BornFebruary 14, 1838
DiedOctober 12, 1914(1914-10-12) (aged 76)
Known forInventing the flat-bottomed paper bag

Margaret Eloise Knight (February 14, 1838 – October 12, 1914[1]) was an American inventor, notably of the flat-bottomed paper bag. She has been called "the most famous 19th-century woman inventor".[2] She was working in a paper-bag factory when she devised a new way to put together the bags. She founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company in 1870, creating paper bags for groceries similar in form to the ones that would be used in later generations.

Early life[edit]

Knight was born on February 14, 1838, in York, Maine to James Knight and Hannah Teal. After her father died when she was young, Knight's family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire. She received a basic education, but left school with her siblings to work at a cotton mill. At the age of 12, Knight witnessed an accident at the mill where a worker was stabbed by a steel-tipped shuttle that shot out of a mechanical loom. Within weeks, she invented a safety device for the loom that was later adopted by other Manchester mills. The device was never patented and the exact nature of it is unknown, though it may have been either a device to stop the loom when the shuttle thread broke or a guard to physically block a flying shuttle.[3] Health problems precluded Knight from continuing to work at the cotton mill. In her teens and early 20s she held several jobs, including home repair, photography, and engraving.[3]


Knight moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in 1867 and was hired by the Columbia Paper Bag Company.[3] In 1868, 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.[4] With a Massachusetts business partner, Knight established the Eastern Paper Bag Co. and received royalties.

Her many other inventions included lid removing pliers, a numbering machine, a window frame and sash, patented in 1894, and several devices relating to rotary engines, patented between 1902 and 1915.[5]

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 honor.[6][7][8][9]

Knight was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.[1] The original bag-making machine is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.


Works about her[edit]

  • Emily Arnold McCully: 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.)
  • DiMeo, Nate. no. 116,842 The Memory Palace Podcast Episode 78, November 5, 2015. (Podcast detailing Margaret Knight, her early life and inventions.)
  • Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie: Women in science: antiquity through the nineteenth century: a biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography. 3rd ed. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1991, ISBN 0-262-65038-X, p. 110 f.
  • Sam Maggs: Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers who Changed History, published by Quirk Books on October 24, 2016, distributed by Penguin House. (A section detailing Knight's most notable inventions and her life.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Inventor profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  2. ^ Petroski, Henry (2003). Small Things Considered. New York: Vintage Books. p. 101. ISBN 1-4000-3293-8.
  3. ^ a b c Sisson, Mary (2008). "Knight, Margaret". Inventors and Inventions, Volume 4. New York: Marshall Cavendish. pp. 975–980. ISBN 978-0-7614-7767-9.
  4. ^ U.S. Patent 116,842 Improvement in Paper-Bag Machines, July 11, 1871.
  5. ^ Margaret E. Knight at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. ^ Blakemore, Erin. "Meet Mary Kies, America's First Woman to Become a Patent Holder". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  7. ^ "Women Inventors | History Detectives | PBS". Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  8. ^ "First Women Inventors | History of American Women". Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "10 Key Dates in Women's History: The Early Modern Period | Britannica Blog". Retrieved August 10, 2016.

External links[edit]