On this day in 1838, the great inventor Margaret E Knight was born. She invented a whole bunch of things. She was granted 87 patents in her lifetime. But she is most known for her first patent: a machine to make those flat bottom paper bags that we all know from the grocery store.
There is an interesting story about that. She built a prototype of the device out of wood. But for some reason, she needed a working model made out of iron to get a patent. That doesn’t make any sense. It certainly isn’t the way that patents work today. I suspect it was because she was a woman. Never underestimate the power of sexism. Anyway, she hired the machinist Charles Annan to build the needed iron version of the device. And he promptly stole it and got the patent himself. She had to fight him in court and eventually won, getting the patent for herself in 1871. Somehow, I figure if it happened today it wouldn’t have ended so easily and justly.
She went on to invent a large number of other manufacturing devices — especially related to rotary engines. It’s surprising that she isn’t better known, given that she was the first professional woman inventor. But maybe that’s the reason she isn’t better known.
Happy birthday Margaret E Knight!
I’m not convinced that the image above is actually Knight. The woman in the photo looks to be around 30, which would put the photo at around 1870. She looks a lot more modern than that. But given that she was such a liberated woman, it may well be her. It may just be that I’m used to looking at images of women from the Civil War.