It is difficult to imagine a time without shopping bags: plastic, reusable, or otherwise. They are utilitarian, commonplace, and always there when you need one. But this seemingly endless and extremely useful commodity wasn’t always around to help make our lives easier.  


Early Inventions:

Shopping bags didn’t even exist before the late 1800s. Shoppers had to carry their purchases home in bulky baskets, juggle what they could carry in their arms, or have the merchant deliver goods to their homes (think horse and buggy, not Amazon Prime). It wasn’t until 1852 that a Pennsylvania schoolteacher named Francis Wolle invented a machine that could produce paper shopping bags. Unfortunately, this first iteration didn’t have much carrying capacity due to its envelope-style construction. 1871 saw a new and improved version with the invention of flat-bottomed bags by Margaret Knight, and in 1883 Charles Stillwell improved her design to resemble the pleated, collapsible bag that modern bags are based on. 


Refining the Design:

The turn of the century brought consumers more choice and variety in their shopping options. Grocery retailers began to stock shelves with a growing number of non-perishable products, leading shoppers to purchase more volume in a single trip. In 1912, Minnesota grocer Walter H. Deubner saw the need for a stronger, more durable shopping bag designed to carry a large quantity of heavy canned beans and veggies effectively and efficiently. Deubner reinforced the paper bag with a cord and added handles, thus allowing his customers to buy more groceries at a time and increasing his profit margin–always the goal! He patented the idea and began selling them for 5 cents (about $1.32 in today’s value) each, essentially creating the first paper tote and the first reusable bag. 


The Last 100 Years:

Paper totes were less expensive to produce by the 1950s, allowing retailers to offer customers bags free of charge. Plastic bags were introduced between the 1960s and 80s. With the creation of these new materials, retailers quickly realized bags could be used for marketing purposes and custom shopping bags branded with logos became common. Consumers began equating certain premium brands with elevated social status and carried these bags with pride. 


Today, shopping bags are found nearly everywhere and come in a variety of materials, colors, and patterns. In an effort to limit single use plastics, the last decade has seen a resurgence in the popularity of paper (interestingly, now a 5 cent charge) and reusable bags as the preferred method of transporting goods due to their environmentally friendly composition. 


What will the future hold? Ann Joy is constantly innovating, coming up with new shopping bag options and designs that are sustainable and affordable. If you have any questions, or would like to create a custom shopping bag that will best meet your brand’s needs, please contact us.