February 14th: George Ferris & Margaret E. Knight

Today is both Valentine’s Day and the 154th birthday of George Ferris, the engineer who proposed and constructed the first Ferris Wheel in 1893. This is the first time I can recall that a Doodle celebrated an individual honoree and a coincident holiday at the same time.

Today, we’ll look at another inventor: Margaret E. Knight, born on this day in 1838.

Margaret E. Knight.

Margaret E. Knight.

Knight is known today for the many inventions she created, and patents she was awarded, in the 19th century. When she was 30, she essentially invented the brown paper bag that we still use in grocery stores today. At the time, those bags were made by hand, and an envelope-style design was more common, but Knight designed a machine that could automatically fold and glue the paper into a sturdy, flat-bottomed shape. The National Inventors Hall of Fame estimates that this replaced the work of 30 people. The original machine is in the collection of the Smithsonian, but while Knight was having a model built, another worker in that machine shop stole the design and attempted to patent it. Knight successfully sued and won the patent — an accomplishment in and of itself for a woman in that era — and continued to invent new devices throughout her life.

Knight’s other inventions include paper-feeding machines, window frame-and-sash systems, devices to improve manufacturing of textiles and shoes, safety devices for mills, and innovations in the design of internal combustion engines. Overall, she received more than 2 dozen patents.

Knight was only the second woman to be granted a United States Patent. She’s an honoree of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was granted the Decoration of the Royal Legion of Honour by the English crown.

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