In 1883, Charles Stilwell, a native of Ohio and a former Union soldier, put the finishing touches on patent number 279,505: a machine that has supplied generations of Americans with Halloween masks, cheap gift wrap and indispensable supermarket sacks.

Although history credits Stilwell as the inventor of the brown paper bag, his clever sacks were not the first.As Country Home magazine reports, people originally glued paper bags together by hand. The bags featured V-shaped bottoms which made folding them difficult and standing them upright nearly impossible. But Stilwell's bags, with their convenient flat bottoms and pleated sides, fueled an industry that today generates more than 25 billion brown bags each year.