From left, a photo of Charles Hill Morgan, a page with handwritten notes and illustrations, and a page from Morgan's paper bag patent

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Charles Hill Morgan’s First Patent: The Paper Bag

CHARLES HILL MORGAN, a WPI trustee from 1865 to his death in 1911, founded Morgan Construction Company in 1888, but his initial love of production and design was fostered at an early age.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1831, he moved at the age of 12 to Clinton, Mass., to begin working in a mill to help support his family. As a teenager, he learned mechanical drawing and grew into the role of supervisor of the dye house for Clinton Mills when he was only 21 years old.

By 1852, Morgan began sketching drawings and processes for new machinery in a series of diaries he kept for the remainder of his life. He took one entry—titled “Bag Machine, Clinton, Oct. 1856, Description of Drawings, Specification & Claims for B. F. Rice’s Paper Bag Machine”— into production with the help of fellow Clinton engineers Joseph C. Smith and Benjamin F. Rice, crafting a machine design capable of bending, folding, and gluing paper bags of various sizes.

The machines proved a commercial success and soon Morgan’s bags dominated the market. By 1859, his three paper bag machines were producing an average of 70,000 bags per day. The design was so successful, he was forced to defend his copyright against several manufacturers, including his former employer, E.W. Goodale. After a series of successful court battles, Morgan finally had his first patent as principal inventor.

With his brother, Francis Henry Morgan, Charles moved to Philadelphia in 1860, where they set up their first family company.  They hired their father, Hiram, as their first employee and began to market their bags internationally. In 1864 Charles returned to Worcester to become general superintendent at Ichabod Washburn’s firm, Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company, one of largest producers of steel products in the world.

In 1881 Charles founded Morgan Spring Co. and in 1891 he founded Morgan Construction Co. When he passed away in 1911, he was widely regarded as one of the most influential industrialists, engineers, and philanthropists of his era.

Recognized as one of WPI’s founders, Morgan’s journals and the records of Morgan Construction Co. are held in the WPI Archives.

Carlson is assistant director of Archives & Special Collections in WPI’s George C. Gordon Library.

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