“As a child, I never cared for things that girls usually do; . . . I was always making things.”
Growing up in New England manufacturing towns, Margaret Knight (1838–1914) was familiar with industrial machines. “As a child,” she recalled, “I never cared for things that girls usually do; . . . I was always making things.” While working for a manufacturer of envelope-style paper bags, she invented, prototyped, and tested a machine to make more practical square-bottom bags. But when she applied for a patent, she discovered that an unscrupulous man had seen her design and patented it in his name. She sued, and presented her notes, patterns, drawings, and models to refute the impostor’s claim that no woman could create such a complex machine. Knight received her patent and many more in her lifetime—including one represented in the model here, for an improvement to her original bag machine. “I’m only sorry I couldn’t have had as good a chance as a boy,” she maintained, “and have been put to my trade regularly.”
Source for quote above: “A Lady in a Machine Shop.” Woman’s Journal, December 21, 1872: 463. Quoted in Anne L. MacDonald. Feminine Ingenuity: How Women Inventors Changed America, 51. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.