Made in Saratoga: All Hail the Paper Bag King!

First, let’s get one thing straight: 19th-century Saratoga County industrialist and congressman George “Paper Bag King” West didn’t actually invent the brown paper bag. But he did have just about every other aspect of the invention wrapped up. “He was part owner of a company that purchased promising paper bag patents, so he had early access to the latest methods,” says Timothy Starr, a Capital Region historian who literally wrote the book on West (it’s called The Paper Bag King.) “It was only in the 1930s, long after his death, that local newspapers started claiming he invented the paper bag.”

Nonetheless, some of the earliest and best paper bags were, um, made in Saratoga or, more accurately, produced in West’s dozen mills along the Kayaderosseras Creek. West was best known for his “self-opening satchel,” essentially a large grocery bag like the ones now handed out in supermarkets, which replaced more expensive bags made of cotton (ironically, like some of the reusable ones we all carry around today). 

By 1880, West was making more bags than anyone else in the US, and by the time of his death in 1901, had effectively turned his paper bags into moneybags: He left a fortune
that today would be worth a cool $75 million.

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