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Designing Women

It’s not often that I look to the American Scholar for business ideas or insights. But the autumn 2003 edition includes a fascinating excerpt from Henry Petroski’s relatively new book Small Things Considered.

Concentrating on the evolution of the grocery bag — one of those near-ubiquitous items we rarely think about — Petroski mentions Margaret Knight, considered by some to be “the most famous nineteenth-century American woman inventor.” Around 1870, Knight invented a bag-making machine that introduced the square-bottomed bag we know today.

Another inventor also applied for a patent under his own name — but using Knight’s idea. While the rival argued that a woman “could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine,” Knight’s drawing, paper patterns, and diary entries proved otherwise — and established priority of invention.

I find innovation history like that inspiring — and the story reminds me of the Fast Company feature One Mystery Explained.

This entry was sparked by a note I made last night on a little blue slip of paper.

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