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Paper bags are one of those things that modern people take for granted. We see them everywhere, as they have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. From the paper sack that holds a school lunch to the bags at the local store, these things are everywhere. Before paper bags came along, people would usually carry their goods in a sack made of thick cloth. A backpack might also be used, as well as jars of pottery or glass. The paper bag (and its modern cousin, the plastic bag) have replaced these old methods for two reasons above all: They are just cheaper and more convenient.

Who Invented The Paper Bag?

The earliest evidence of the paper bag comes from a patent filed in 1852. This patent was filed by Francis Wolle, a schoolteacher from Pennsylvania who was also something of an inventor. He invented machines that could mass-produce paper bags and was the first to do so. Although we cannot be sure that Wolle invented the paper bag, it would seem that he is the most likely inventor. Wolle used his machines to start the Union Paper Bag Company, which saw a lot of success with his new invention.

About nine years later, another inventor named Margaret E. Knight made and patented an important improvement in this field. The original paper bags were essentially just large envelopes, hence why they were so easy to mass-produce. Knight managed to overcome this limitation and created a machine that could mass-produce paper bags with flat bottoms. This made the paper bag far more convenient.

The only remaining advancement was the development of pleated (foldable) sides and square-bottomed bags. Those two innovations came from an inventor named Charles Stilwell. Wolle and Knight’s bags had a tapering shape, which made them hard to transport in mass. What’s more, the bags were cumbersome to store in large quantities. Pleated sides allow paper bags to be folded up and stored in a compact stack. With this final level of advancement, the modern paper bag was born.

What Kind Of Paper Do They Use For Paper Bags?

The vast majority of paper bags are made from a substance called Kraft paper. This is a rough and durable kind of paper that is manufactured from wood chips. It is sometimes coated with vinyl and emblazoned with logos due to its naturally drab color. Wood chips are used to make Kraft paper. The wood chips are mixed with water, lye, and sodium sulfide in a procedure called the Kraft process and heated to a high temperature. This breaks them down into pulpy fibers, which are then separated through straining. They are then bleached and washed before being allowed to settle in flat trays, where they dry and become the rough brown paper that we all know.

Types Of Paper Bags

Although the paper bag is a remarkably simple invention, there are many variations that you might encounter. Let’s look at a few of them.

Gusseted Paper Bags

These are paper bags that have been reinforced at the bottom or on the sides with extra paper. You can usually tell these bags right away because they are extra thick. Also, you will probably be able to see the seam where the gusset meets the bag itself.

Paper Bags With Handles

Paper Bags With Handles

A lot of paper bags have handles made of twine or thin rope. There is nothing complicated about these bags. They just take a piece of cordage, fold the paper over it, and glue the whole thing into place. Most of the best paper bags have these, but it’s always safer to carry your paper bags from the bottom.

The Classic “S.O.S.” Bag

This is probably the most iconic form of the paper bag. Those brown paper grocery bags would be the larger version of the S.O.S. bag. The small brown paper sacks that are often used by schoolchildren to carry their lunch would be an example of the smaller version. They are very plain and not particularly durable, but they offer a cheap and workable solution for those who either don’t need or can’t afford the better bags.

Pinch-Bottom Bags

These are the bags that can stand on their own when filled. These kinds of bags are often used for products that are bought in bulk, like animal feed or construction materials. Besides their ability to stand, these bags tend to be very thick and tough. In many cases, these bags will have to handle 50 pounds or more, so they are usually made from multiple layers of thick kraft paper. They are also usually treated with a material that resists grease and moisture.


These are multi-use shopping bags that are meant to be a little more friendly to the environment. They are usually made from 100% recycled materials for this same reason. Apart from their ecological appeal, these tend to be large and durable bags. They have rope handles on both sides, making it easy to carry them at your side. Most of the time, they are coated with some kind of material to make them glossy, shiny, and/or more resistant to moisture. Some of them even come with cardboard inserts to increase their strength. Overall, these are a great solution for general shopping needs.

Vogue Bags And Party Bags

Both of these are very similar to a euro-tote. They are just square paper bags with thick and comfortable handles on either side. They tend to be very colorful, and vogue bags tend to be a little bit thicker and stronger than vogue bags. However, the differences are quite small.

Bakery Bags

These are the small paper bags that are used to contain things like bread, cookies, and other baked goods. They are much like any other sort of paper bag, except that they are lined with wax paper to preserve freshness.

Twist Handle Bags

These are similar to gusset bags in the fact that they have been reinforced. Instead of adding an extra layer of paper, these bags incorporate twisted cords of paper along the seams. This is a very common modification, as the seams are the most vulnerable part of any paper bag. By adding twists, a paper bag can get a lot of reinforcement where it is most needed.

Paper Envelopes For Shipping

Paper Envelopes For Shipping

You may not think of these as paper bags, but they technically qualify. These are the most common means of mailing small items because of their low cost and ease of use. They range from the small envelopes that are used for mailing letters to huge package mailers that are lined with bubble wrap and meant to transport large and fragile items.

How Can You Tell How Strong A Paper Bag Is?

If you are buying paper bags in large quantities, you might be wondering about their strength. After all, you can’t have these bags failing as your customers walk out with their products. That is bad for business in more ways than one, so it’s important to make sure that the bags are strong enough to hold your products.

You can do this by asking about the grammage of the bags. Any expert in this industry will know what you mean. Although it might not seem simple, grammage is just a measure of how dense the bag is per square meter. In some cases, companies will represent grammage in density per 500 sheets. Because all paper is more or less equal in strength, the weight capacity of a bag will be determined entirely by its thickness and density.

You might run into a situation where the vendor cannot (or will not) tell you the exact grammage of their bags. Thankfully, there are special tools that can be used to deal with 333333this situation. The device described in this patent, for example, uses a dielectric resonator (in other words, it uses a simple form of sonar) to detect the thickness and density of any paper bag. Thus, you can just ask the company for a sample bag and then measure the grammage for yourself.

Once you know the specific grammage of the bag, you can use this handy online calculator to get an accurate estimate of that bag’s weight capacity.

Are Paper Bags Better For The Environment?

For a while, paper bags became a lot less common. As plastic bags became cheaper and cheaper, paper bags became less and less appealing to retailers. However, a lot of businesses are moving back toward the use of paper bags because they believe it to be more environmentally friendly. Overall, they are probably right.

First of all, paper bags do require the cutting of trees, although they can be made with recycled materials. At the same time, the process of producing paper produces more pollution than the process of making a plastic bag because of the various chemicals involved. Still, you can help to make up for this by re-using your paper bags.

Paper bags are a problem because they do not biodegrade as a paper bag will do. That means they are staying in the environment for a lot longer, where there is more risk to water quality and wildlife. There are some serious concerns about plastic in the environment, as it readily leaches chemicals into water and soil. Paper may require some kind of plant material to be harvested, but at least it goes back into the earth when its life is over.

Because of their easily-degraded nature, it isn’t surprising to find out that plastic bags are more difficult to recycle than paper ones. Once wetted, paper bags can easily be rendered into a pulp. This pulp can then be re-used to make any sort of paper product desired. However, plastic bags tend to gum up any machine into which they are put. In addition, their burning tends to produce a film that contaminates other processes in the same building.


You might be surprised to see that the paper bag can be such a complicated thing. Without any doubt, it’s a subject that most people would never even think to study. Only business owners have much of a motivation to learn about this kind of thing, and that’s why our article has been directed at that type of person. We hope that we have given you a better idea of the choices that you have in this department.

Paper bags are less popular than plastic bags these days, but many people feel that our society needs to reduce its dependence on oil, and that means reducing our dependence on plastic. If you have enjoyed our work, and you would like to see a little more of it, you can fill out the contact form. That way, we can keep you updated with more helpful advice in the future.