Bag the Politicians

by Don Boudreaux on February 24, 2005

in History

I never thought about paper bags until yesterday.

My seven-year-old son, Thomas, checked out from his school library a fascinating little book entitled Girls Think of Everything. It contains a dozen or so accounts of significant inventions made by women. (Did you know, for example, that the windshield wiper was invented in 1903 by Mary Anderson of Birmingham, Alabama?)

But back to paper bags. We take them for granted. But they’re enormously useful, not least, of course, for carrying groceries.

One feature of paper bags that makes them useful is their flat bottoms. (Betcha didn’t reflect on this fact very much until this moment!) But until a machine was invented to fold flat-bottoms onto bags, the only flat-bottom paper bags in existence were folded by hand – making them something of a luxury item, available only to rich folks.

In 1870 Margaret Knight of Boston invented the first machine that folded flat-bottoms onto bags, thereby dramatically reducing their cost and transforming the paper bag into an everyday useful item.

….

I’d never heard of Margaret Knight until twelve hours ago. Yet her creativity and efforts of so many years ago have long made my life better than it would otherwise have been. As far as I know, she never held political office and never pontificated eloquently on allegedly grand issues. No "Four score and seven years ago…."   No "Ask not what your country can do for you…."   No "The only thing we have to fear…"  Nothing etched into schoolchildren’s memories or into marble walls in DC.

But I’m sure that Margaret Knight has contributed far more to the well-being of each American than has any collection of 1,000 politicians.

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