Musings From the Bench

musings from the bench-2









I was flipping through the TV channels looking for something to fill some time when I came across an episode of “Bonanza”. You remember Bonanza, right? Ben Cartwright and his three sons from different mothers? (The Mrs. Cartwrights didn’t fare so well on the Ponderosa.)

Anyway, there was a scene where a new family was picking up supplies at the General Store/Feed Store. As the shopkeepers son was helping to load the supplies onto the wagon it struck me that just about everything they bought was in a cloth bag or sack. Flour, sugar, grain for the chickens, coffee, as I said, just about everything, except for the thread, pins and fabric the Mrs. needed for the curtains she was going to make–those were wrapped in paper. Women shopping on foot put their purchases in the baskets they carried for that purpose.

The cloth flour sacks replaced the barrels, boxes and tins for storing the kitchen staples and animal feed because they were cheaper to produce, lighter weight and easier to handle, although looking at some of the women walking to the store with their baskets, I wouldn’t put it past them to be able to carry a barrel, box or tin if their baskets were big enough. Anyway, with the invention of the sewing machine, the seams on the sacks were stronger making the bags themselves stronger.

These sacks were widely used during the 1800s and into the Depression Era (1921 – 1941) when both money and cloth were scarce. Because of the strong and well-made fabrics, cloth flour and feed sacks were used to make clothing and other things people needed but had no money for.

In 1942 an estimated 3 million women and children of all income levels wore print cloth feedbag garments. Well, maybe not the 1%-ers. These feedbag/flour sacks were made into:

clotheswoman fashion sacks





laundry bags





In 1943 prior to WWII, most flour was sold in 25 and 50 pound cloth sacks. During the War sugar was rationed and many women began buying bread already baked so they could use their limited sugar in other recipes. This had a lasting impact as women became accustomed to not baking their own bread even after rationing was lifted.

If was following WWII that flour began to be packaged in smaller bags (at first in cloth bags) in 5 and 10 pound quantities and a growing portion of flour was sold to commercial bakeries. It wasn’t until 1961 that paper bags began to be used for packaging flour instead of cloth.

Colleen B. Hubert penned this poem about The Flour Sack

In that long ago time when things were saved,

When roads were graveled and barrels staved,

When worn-out clothing was used as rags,

And there were no plastic wrap or bags,

And the well and the pump were way out back,

A versatile item, was the flour sack.

Pillsbury’s Best, Mother’s and Gold Medal, too

Stamped their names proudly in purple and blue

The string sewn on top was pulled and was kept;

The flour emptied and spills were swept

The bag was folded and stored in a sack

That durable, practical flour sack.

The sack could be filled with feather and down,

For a pillow or t’would make a sleeping gown,

It could carry a book and be a schoolbag,

Or become a mail sack slung over a nag.

It made a very convenient pack.

That adaptable, cotton flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn

As bibs, diapers or kerchiefs adorned

It was made into skirts, blouses and slips

And mom braided rugs from one hundred strips

She made cuffed curtains for the house or the shack,

From that humble but treasured flour sack!

As a strainer for milk or apple juice,

To wave men in, it was a very good use,

As a sling for a sprained wrist or a break

To help mother roll up a jelly cake,

As a window shade or to stuff a crack,

We used a sturdy, common flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered or not,

They covered up dough,

help pass pans so hot,

Tied up dishes for neighbors in need,

And for men out in the field to seed.

They dried dishes from pan, not rack

That absorbent, handy flour sack!

We polished and cleaned stove and table,

Scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable,

We dusted the bureau and oak bed post,

Made costumes for October (a scary ghost)

And a parachute for a cat named Jack,

From that lowly, useful old flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you

As curious youngsters often do,

“Before plastic wrap, Elmer’s Glue

And paper towels, what did you do?”

Tell them loudly and with pride, don’t lack

“Grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!”

After an exhaustive search, the only info found on Colleen B. Hubert was her poem. Don’t know when she wrote it, how old she was or even if she’s alive.

As I said flour and sugar packaged in paper bags started appearing on store shelves in 1961. Now I’m surprised at that but can’t dispute it even though I was 10 or so years old. My Mom made pies with FLAKO pie crust ix and biscuits with Bisquick and on the off chance she decided to bake a cake, well the cake flour came in a box, too. And quite frankly, I have no idea what my grandmother or great-grandmother used at the time, so I’ll take Google’s word that paper bags of flour and sugar and animal feed started showing up at stores in ’61.

In 1852 Francis Wolle invented the first machine for making paper bags.

In 1870 Margaret Knight invented a machine that would cut, fold and glue paper to form the flat bottomed paper bags still being used in grocery stores today.

Back then she built a wooden model of the device, but needed a working iron model to apply for a patent. Charles Annan  was in the machine shop where her model was being built, stole her design and got a patent for the device. Margaret filed a patent interference suit against him.

He said that “because she was a woman she couldn’t possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine.” Little did he know that 33 year old Margaret had been inventing things since she was the age of 12 and when she presented to the Court her meticulous notes, diary entries, samples and expertise they ruled in her favor. Knight established the Eastern Paper Bag Co. with a Massachusetts business man. The company is still in business today with factories in Milford, CT and Tewksbury, MA.

My Uncle Frank (he of the best grilled burgers a few posts ago) always took a metal lunchbox and thermos to work with him while my father preferred taking his lunch in a paper bag. There was just enough room for 2 sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a napkin. Back then store bought bread had paper wrappers but the bread didn’t stay fresh very long so bakeries exchanged the paper for plastic.

Plastic bags haven’t been around as long as paper bags. The first ever plastic bag invented was a sandwich bag in 1957. 1969 saw bread and produce sold in plastic bags, and the first garbage collected in plastic bags was in New York City. 1974 saw retail stores switching to plastic bags.

I remember going shopping downtown with my mother and purchasing flat bottom paper bags with heavy duty handles for 25 cents each to carry the paper bags our purchases came in when there were too many individual bags to carry comfortably. They most often had the store name on them or some holiday decoration. Those were nice bags.

1996- More than 8 out of 10 bags used is plastic.

Today 60,000 plastic bags are used in the US every 5 seconds.

“Plastic and paper bags have not been around long enough to warrant their destructive impact on the earth. Switching to natural,biodegradable and renewable sources of bags for carry home and storage must happen sooner or later. Otherwise our single-use habits jeopardize our future.” So, the next time you hear “paper or plastic” hand over your carry home cloth bags instead. That is, unless you have school-age children — paper bags still make the best schoolbook covers in the world.

With the increased numbers of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornadoes and hurricanes, more and more human trash is ending up in the ocean and choking the life out of everything that lives there. It’s even interfering with trying to locate Malaysian Flight 370.

Maybe we will be able to slingshot around the Sun someday and make our future better.

Remember Star Trek IV The Voyage Home? There was a threat to all inhabited planets, space stations and Starships. No one could understand what the object was trying to communicate, so Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Sulu and Uhura performed the slingshot around the Sun maneuver in a Klingon Bird of Prey landing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco of the past. They needed to find and transport back to the 23rd Century a humpback whale that would be able to communicate with the alien (s) that were wreaking havoc on all the worlds.

In one scene, James T. Kirk and Dr. Gillian Taylor are in an Italian restaurant sipping on ice cold Michelobs while waiting for their pizza. Kirk is trying to find out more about the two humpback whales (George and Gracie) living at the Cetacean Institute in Salsalito, while Gillian is trying to find out more about Kirk and his interest in “her” whales. Then she gets the full story about Kirk coming from the 23rd Century to bring two humpback whales back to the future with him.

By the time the pizza has arrived along with the bill, Gillian expecting Kirk to be the gentleman and pay for the food only looks at him and says, “Don’t tell me you don’t use money in the 23rd Century”, while she takes out her wallet. And he says, “We’ll, we don’t.”

gillian pays with money







Well, with direct deposit and debit cards people in the 21st Century don’t have to either.

Sometimes plastic can be a good thing.


Thanks for reading. Until next time.

Hands on Hemp and IMDb contributed information for this post.








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About Jane Gray 58 Articles
Born in the '50s, grew up in the '60s, got married in the '70s. Gave birth in the '80s and started collecting social security in 2013. My time is my own and I don't mind sharing my opinions on everything with everybody. I hate injustice, the truth is easier to remember than a lie. I like the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, the New York Mets, and that English futbol team from Liverpool.


  1. A note on Eastern Bag and Paper… I know of that company very well because at one time they were in the South End of Bridgpeport before they moved to their present location in Milford.

    The South End was my stomping grounds for a long time during my twenties and a part of my thirties. It is also home to tenements, housing projects and many small business mostly failed or moved… among them being Warnaco, and, of course, Eastern Bag. It is still home to a divison of Sikorsy Aircraft, Seaside Park and the University of Bridgeport.

    Just to show you I am also old… I remember cloth bags for flour… but not sugar. I do remember that the local hardware store used to have all kinds of sacks of stuff… nails, screws and whatever other thing-a-ma-bobs they had… barrels full of stuff, too.

    And… mom making me them paper bag book covers.

  2. Bonanza or as I call it my Father’s and Uncle’s favorite show. When you’re raised around men who love Western’s, it’s a bit hard to avoid it. While, I’m personally not a fan I’ve seen plenty of Bonanza in my day.

    Good blog.

  3. One bit of trivia on Bridgeport. The Mayor of Bridgeport back in the ’20s got many complaints about the streets not being cleared of snow after a significant snowfall and told his constituents, “God put it there, let Him take it away.” Could be a myth, I suppose.

  4. it is true.. here is the back story.. the guy, Jaspar McLevy, is a capitalstic socialist… he sold the snow removal stuff to some place, which I believe was a town in Vermont… guess it was a mild winter so two abck then… any way… it obviously snows and peeps start complaining and they say some splaining needs to be done and, “Viloa!” he pops up with this comment: “God put it there; let God take it away.”

    Now here’s another back story… Jaspar never said the words… Jasper was cheap. Voters loved his cheapness except during storms. Snow came down and stayed there because Jaspar saw no need to invest in having it removed.

    The expression comes from Pete Brewster who served as McLevy’s director of Public Works. Several months after the storm, Brewster was taking a friendly beating from city scribes over beers at Billy Prince’s bar on State Street downtown (I’ve actually had a few in Billy’s place during my drinking days) As the beers started going down the needles started going in deeper and deeper whe nfianll yBrewster gets pissed enoug ht osay… “Let the Guy who put the snow there take it away.”

    either way… it’s a funny story.

  5. Well I’ll be a monkey’s auntie. HA!
    I suppose some enterprising youngsters could have made out like bandits offering to shovel the snowy streets in front of homes and businesses for a modest sum. Like to see some Mayor try that logic today……he’d be crucified and never re-elected.

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