In her book, "Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History," Sam Maggs detailed the lives of women who were pioneers in their field. As part of an occasional series, we're highlighting some of the figures featured in her book and their work. Today, the story of prolific inventor Margaret Knight:
If you’ve ever gone to a fast food joint and picked up a burger in a paper bag, you have Margaret Knight to thank for that.
Margaret Knight grew up in the late 1800s visiting her siblings in textile factories where she witnessed a lot of horrible things go down, like workers getting injured by falling spindles.
So when she started to see these things going wrong in the factories she invented an auto-stopper at just 12 years old that she was able to put into factories all across the East Coast of the United States that made them way safer for workers.
As she got older, she got a job in a paper bag factory where she would work on a machine that put together envelope-style paper bags. Flat-bottomed paper bags are much more useful. But there was no machine that could do the work of making a flat-bottomed paper bag at the time. Women would have to sit and by hand glue flat bottomed paper bags together. Margaret found this unconscionable. No man had been able to invent a machine that could do this, so she was just like, whatever, I’m gonna invent this machine.
Years of work later, she invented a machine that could do the work of 30 people folding and making flat-bottom paper bags, decided to patent her invention and it was stolen by a man. And his legal defense was basically, ‘Well, she’s a woman, so she could never have thought of this.’ But after many weeks on trial, during which she showed all of her original notes, the judge awarded the patent to her. And from there, she was very successful. She invented over 80 different machines over the course of her life. And when she dies, lots of newspapers heralded her as the woman Edison. Although I think Edison was probably the dude Margaret, but that’s beside the point.