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Margaret E. Knight

Sep 5, 2018 12:00 AM


The small town of York, Maine received an outstanding mind on the day Margaret E. Knight was born in 1838. She was born into a large family and affectionately called Mattie. She helped fix her brothers and sisters toys as well as creating a variety of toys for her siblings to play with and entertain themselves.

When Mattie was just 12 years old, she began working at a local textile mill to support her family due to her father's untimely passing. One of her earliest inventions was a device that covered the shuttle on a spool of thread. She developed this contraption because a worker at the mill where she was working became hurt when a piece of thread became wedged in the shuttle. As a result, the shuttle broke and struck him. This was what started her career with ingenious inventions. Unfortunately, she was not aware of the US Patent process at the time and did not earn a profit for her creativity.

According to (, Margaret wasn’t the first American woman to receive a patent, but it was still quite an achievement for the time. Mattie followed in the steps set before her by Mary Kies who was the first American woman to receive a patent in 1809. Mary received her patent for an innovative industrial weaving process that wove straw with silk to make ladies hats. Margaret received her first patent in 1870-1871.

She was living in Massachusetts at the time and worked at the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Springfield. Mattie thought that a paper bag that opened with a flat bottom permitted consumers to carry more items when they made purchases from the store. The paper bags of the day were more like a large paper envelope. Thus, she evaluated and critiqued the machines in the factory. She took that knowledge and designed a device that made that bags with glued pieces on the bottom to make it stand up on a flat surface.

Mattie was aware of the US Patent process, but before she could submit the paperwork for a patent, she needed to build an iron model of the paper bag machine. She already had the wooden version of the device. However, when she consulted with some businessmen about helping her build the iron contraption, a man by the name of Charles Annan, stole her idea and applied for the patent before she did. During this time, she was in the process of establishing her business to manufacture the bags herself when Margaret filed a lawsuit against Mr. Annan and won!

Margaret never married and went on to create several inventions that include clasps for robes, a skirt protector for dresses and skirts, a numbering machine, a machine for boring holes, and a device that cut the soles for shoes. Mattie encountered much opposition we came to creating and producing her inventions because she was a woman. She was consistently undermined, and much of her work went unrecognized. Nevertheless, she designed and implemented over 85 inventions had more than 25 patents in her lifetime. She would have had much more if she knew about the US Patent earlier in her life.

To learn more about this remarkable woman, check out this article on the website American Society of Mechanical Engineers (

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