THE PAPER BAG FIGHT

While scouring material for my 1930s suspense novel, I accidentally came across this gem about Margaret E. Knight. Her life didn’t start with a silver spoon in her mouth. In fact, things went from bad to worse, and her story almost didn’t have a happy ending. Ah, but Providence had a way of allowing Margaret’s hard work, tenacity, and wonderful inventions to shine.

Born in Maine on February 14, 1838, Mattie, as some called her, never played with dolls but instead preferred tools and blocks of wood. After the death of her father, she, her mother, and two brothers relocated to New Hampshire. To help support the family, Mattie left school and began work in a cotton mill at age 12.

When she witnessed a co-worker’s severe accident due to equipment failure, Mattie invented a device ensuring its safe operation. Unfortunately, she never patented this safety measure and left the mill due to health issues shortly thereafter.

It’s said that if neighboring boys had problems with their gadgets, they sought help from Mattie. Her mill invention may be one of the reasons.

Mattie received her first patent for a “pneumatic paper-feeder.” She had moved to Springfield, MA three years earlier and worked for Columbia Paper Bag Company. Paper bags that could stand on flat bottoms were handmade and expensive. Mattie built a wooden prototype that cut, folded, and glued brown paper into the shopping bags we’re familiar with today.

To request a patent, however, she needed an iron machine. Charles Annan visited the shop constructing Mattie’s paper bag machine. Imagine Mattie’s surprise when she applied for a patent but instead had to file a patent interference lawsuit. Whether true or not, some records document that Charles contended that Mattie, a woman, wouldn’t have a clue how to make such a machine.

Mattie didn’t shrink from the fight. But their day in court, which cost Mattie about $100.00 per day for 16 days, proved Charles wrong. Not only did she have multiple witnesses testifying to her work, her blueprints, journals, and models detailed her remarkable invention.

Accounts vary, but at the end of her 76 years of life, Mattie had amassed an estate worth approximately $275.00. Paultry in comparison to the approximately 30 patents she’d acquired. These exclude her many unpatented inventions. Though she had received little formal education, her superior intellect earned her many accolades—one which dubbed her “woman Edison.”

In 2006, Margaret E. Knight was inducted into the National Inventor Hall of Fame. A small-scale version of the machine that earned her bag-making patent sits in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

If you’ve ever the notion to give up or walk away from a righteous fight, pick up a paper bag and think about what it cost Mattie. Then quash the naysayers. Work hard, stay in the fight, and do the impossible. *

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright rescues them. (Prov. 12:6, NIV)

By Author eMarie

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*Info Sources:
women-inventors.com
invent.org

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