History of Feedsacks

Collecting Feedsacks History of Feed Sacks
In the early 1800s, manufactured goods were packaged in tins, wooden barrels and boxes. None of those materials were ideal as tins would eventually rust, if exposed to moisture, and wooden boxes and barrels would leak and were bulky, heavy and hard to handle. This changed in 1846 with the invention of the "stitching machine" that could sew a double locking seam sturdy enough to hold the contents of large cloth bags. Homespun linen bags had long been in use for the storage and transport of household goods, but were considered too weak for commercial use.

Originally, feed sacks were made of heavy canvas and were a reusable sack employed by farmers to haul staples such as sugar, flour and cornmeal home from the mills. Each farmer's sack was stamped with his own unique brand for identification among other bags. Then, in the late 1800s, the northeast mills began weaving an inexpensive cotton fabric with a design printed on one side and their brand mark on the side for these purposes. The sacks corresponded to barrel sizes such as one barrel size equaled 196 pounds of flour and an eighth barrel size would hold 24 pounds of sugar.

During hard economic times, the farmers wives began to find use for the empty feed sacks and began producing hand sewn items including clothing, towels, diapers, and other household cloth items.

The manufacturers, seeing an opportunity to create loyalty among their patrons, began printing their bags in more colorful, imaginative patterns. Three identical sacks would make a dress and the farmer might be prompted by the missus to buy three bags of goods instead of one.

Soon, most staple goods were packed in feed sacks. Flour manufacturers used more than 42% of the sacks produced followed by sugar at 17% and then rice, seed and fertilizer. The quality of the sacks varied by commodity. Sugar sacks were much finer woven than flour sacks and were used for handkerchiefs and baby clothes. Sizes of bags varied greatly between manufacturers until 1937 when feed sack sizes were standardized by President Roosevelt.

Collecting Feedsacks Magazine and pattern companies were quick to see a new market and produced patterns designed to fit efficiently on empty feed sacks. Matching wrapping paper and material was also made available as well as knitting and crocheting instructions for the strings ripped from the sacks. In 1942, it was estimated that 42 million men, women and children from all income levels were wearing clothes made from empty feed sacks.
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