Green living: Save Our Earth By Living Green

No Need to Fear a Shopping Spree, Thanks to the Paper Bag

The Office of National Statistics reports that retail sales across the UK are up a considerable amount this summer, the most in two years. People have probably been in a good mood, thanks to the great weather we have experienced. They have also had some pent-up demand for all the things that they wanted to buy, but had put off because of our wobbly economy. But they have certainly taken to the High Street in style in the last few months. It is partly due to the modern shopping bag that they have been able to go shopping with a certain peace of mind. The question is: how long has this simple, yet modern convenience been around?

Paper bags
Paper bags can be found just about anywhere

How Could Something so Simple Be so Difficult to Manufacture?

You’d think that after centuries of using paper, mainly in books and documents that making a paper bag would not be such a challenging task. And yet, manufacturers and inventors struggled with the process until the mid-19th Century. It was just after the American Civil War that a fellow in Pennsylvania named Francis Wolle actually applied for the first patent to make the modern paper bag. A unique and fascinating fellow, (he was simultaneously vice-principal at the local Moravian seminary for young ladies), Mr. Wolle also had an obvious entrepreneurial streak in him. Almost 20 years after inventing the machinery to make the paper bag, he went into business with his brother and a few other investors to capitalize on his invention. It was thus that the Union Paper Bag Machine Company came to be. During the Great Depression, the company opened up a major manufacturing plant in Savannah Georgia, which employed over 500 people. Given the times, it was an enterprise that was met with tremendous support and approval. It is still in operation today and owned by International Paper.

A Unique Inventor Does Her Part

Have you ever heard of Margaret Knight? Chances are, you haven’t and yet this remarkable woman holds over 22 patents and is credited with over 90 inventions, one of which is the square bottom paper bag we all know and use today. Her unique creative genius spanned all sorts of industries, including car manufacturing, domestic products and other manufacturing technologies. But she almost lost the rights to her paper bag manufacturing invention. A fellow named Charles Annan copied her design and tried to patent it. Even 150 years ago, there were patent laws to protect inventors. Young Ms. Knight sued; Mr. Annan’s major argument in court was that a woman could not have possibly come up with the idea. Big mistake. Because she had meticulous notes and plans, Margaret Knight won the day and she was credited with the invention and the patent.

Some Things You Just Can’t Live without

Just like so many things in modern life, paper bags are one thing that we cannot seem to get enough of. Due to their sturdy construction, capacity to hold a substantial amount of things and their inexpensive cost, they have become part of the modern landscape. Many companies and industries also try to recycle them, so as to reduce our dependence on additional sources to make them. But one thing is for sure: they are here to stay! If he were alive today, Francis Wolle would be smiling.

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