174. MARGARET E. KNIGHT: It is only following out nature
Margaret Knight (1833-1914) was an American inventor. From a young age, Knight had a gift for engineering and mechanics, and loved to build gadgets. Her first important invention came when she was working in a factory and witnessed a fellow worker get injured. She devised a safety stop-motion mechanism that would prevent it from happening again. Knight was 12 years old at the time.
She created her most famous invention while working in a paper bag factory in 1868. Instead of having to be glued together by hand, Knight invented a machine that could automatically make flat-bottomed paper bags, the kind still-used today. Knight built a wooden prototype of the device and took it to a machine shop in Boston to be cast in iron. In the shop, a guy named Charles Annan saw Knight’s machine being built, stole her idea and patented the device himself. Knight took Annan to court and the patent office rightly awarded her ownership. Knight is known as the most-famous female inventor of the 19th century and went on to hold 87 patents in her name.
The full quote:
“It is only following out nature. As a child, I never cared for things that girls usually do; dolls never possessed any charms for me. I couldn’t see the sense of cuddling bits of porcelain with senseless faces; the only things I wanted were a jack-knife, a gimlet, and pieces of wood. My friends were horrified. I was called a tomboy, but that made little impression on me. I sighed sometimes, because I was not like other girls, but wisely concluded that I couldn’t help it, and sought further consolation from my tools. I was always making things for my brothers. I was famous for my kites; and my sleds were the envy and admiration of all the boys in town. I’m not surprised at what I’ve done. I’m only sorry I couldn’t have had as good a chance as a boy, and have been put to my trade regularly.”