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Paper bags – the history of the origin of popular packaging

Every product has a beginning – a story that describes its creation. Paper bags also had to be invented in some way. They did not appear in the store just like that. And while we don’t currently look at paper bags in terms of an exclusive or unique product, and they don’t compare to airplanes or drones, their story is really interesting – illustrating how a small thing can really mean a lot. Learn about the interesting history of paper bags and discover what you have yet to discover.

The origins of paper bags

It is accepted that paper bags appeared in the Bristol area – this took place in 1844. It sounds even remotely plausible, but the truth is that the Chinese are responsible for creating a product without which it’s hard to imagine shopping these days. They were the ones who used sheets obtained thanks to the bark of the mulberry tree. They were used for packaging – usually of foodstuffs. So can this be considered the first paper bags? Let’s take a closer look at the whole story

Margaret E. Knight, Patent model of paper bag making machine, 1879
Source: timeline.com.jpg

People associated with the history of paper bags

An extremely important figure in this story is Francis Wolle, it was he who patented the first machine for producing paper bags, which were then very similar in appearance to those used today. His name has made history, but how did it happen?

It all started in the United States, in 1852 to be exact, when a patent for a machine to make paper bags came into effect. A few years later, in 1869 to be exact, Wolle decided to establish a company, which was called the Union Paper Bag Company – Francis did not operate on his own, he cooperated with his brother, thanks to which the company was increasingly profitable, and the effects of production could be seen not only in the US, but also in France or England. Growth was really rapid, allowing the company to expand to manufacturing plants in other cities; in 1935, a factory was opened in Savannah, employing 500 people. Interestingly, the factory has been operating ever since.


Margaret Knight

Source: https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Strona_gC582C3B3wna

Francis Wolle
Source: https:%C3%

Time of greatest popularity

Let’s move to the 1930s – that’s when paper bags had their heyday and were most popular. All this, of course, thanks to a certain man responsible for the creation of an even more improved production machine – we are talking about Charles Stilwell. He refined the paper bags to the point where their bottoms became rigid enough to allow the bags to stand straight. That’s not all, of course. Stilwell has entered very heavily into the retail sector – it has shown that paper bags are ideal for sales, for example, as a way to package groceries. Charles convinced Walter H. Deubner, who was the first store owner to introduce a paper bag option for his customers, of his theory.

Walter slightly modified the bag. He made two holes in it and put a ribbon through them. That’s how the handles were created, which made it easy to carry groceries all the way to the door of the house. Later, paper holders were added, but that’s a topic for another article.

Paper bags manufactured today.

The turbulent packaging industry – paper bags and their roots

The Chinese are notorious for liking to keep their inventions to themselves – not surprising in fact, they are the forerunners in many fields. Unfortunately, it takes a while before something reaches Europe or America – perhaps not in this day and age when electronics are available and sending a photo is a matter of seconds, but in the second century, when paper bags had their beginnings, it wasn’t so easy. It took several centuries before Chinese packaging made its way to other countries. There was another problem along the way – the material. In China, bags were created from bark, and when they arrived in Europe (this was in the 19th century) another material had to be found to make bags locally. The decision was made to use wood pulp, and when necessary – flax and other fibers that happened to be on hand were used.

BagFactory Francis Wolle
Source: https://blog.google/inside-google/life-at-google/ photo archive..jpg

Improving the paper bag manufacturing process

The history of paper bags also includes a woman. She was Margaret Knight – known by many as the “female Edison,” due to her creative, open mind. As a young lady, Margaret constructed many useful items, such as sleds and kites for her younger brothers. Her inventions have earned her a total of 26 patents and played a special role in the production of paper bags. It is responsible for modifying paper bags, or more precisely, improving them. In 1870, Knight developed a machine to make gusset and block bags. Her invention made the whole process comprehensive – the machine warms, folds and even glues paper bags together. It was indeed a major breakthrough.

Margaret Knight-patent-18713 source: GoogleLIFE photo archive..jpg
Charles Stillwell-patent-1889_585 illustrating bag construction source: moma.org
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