The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 25, 2014

How cloth bags shaped America

OTTUMWA — When thinking about inventions that have helped to shape the way we live today, cloth bags don’t generally come to mind, but according to Michael Zahs, they should.

Zahs is a historian, and he not only collects cloth bags but also things made out of the bags, like quilts, dolls, clothes and towels. He’s also a Humanities Iowa speaker, and the Ottumwa Public Library was lucky enough to get him to speak at its March edition of the Reminisce Society on Tuesday.

To start his presentation, Zahs explained that although historians don’t focus on cloth bags as one of the most important pieces of American history, that doesn’t mean they weren’t a key piece to the growth of the country.

“It’s an important part of our history,” he said.

In 1946, he went on to say, approximately 50 million cloth bags were made in America, and because of the Great Depression, people started using them to make all sorts of household items and even clothes.

The reason families started to use old cloth bags and feed sacks to make clothes, mattress protectors, dolls, quilts, towels and any other cloth item was basically because they were made out of cotton. They could be easily sewn into anything, Zahs explained, and women started to recycle them at a very high rate.

“We talk a lot about recycling now, but we didn’t invent it,” he said.

During the 1940s, feed sack suppliers started to catch on to how popular feed sack recycling had become, and for the first time they started to print patterns on the bags to try and market them more to women.

Zahs said that this was really the first instance in American history when marketing plans started to focus on women, and the cloth bags even started to be made with border print so women could make them into fashionable skirts and window drapes.

Text Only
Local News
  • Water Pollution Control Facility gets OK to upgrade OTTUMWA — An emergency Ottumwa City Council meeting resulted in spending $140,583 for the Water Pollution Control Facility. Friday afternoon, council members listened intently as Ottumwa Water Pollution Control Facility Superintendent Kam Reeves told

    July 25, 2014

  • Quincy Ave. project starts Aug. 4 OTTUMWA — Updates on the Quincy Avenue project was given to residents and businesses residing between Albia Road and Hwy. 34 on Thursday night at Ottumwa City Hall. About a dozen people attended the meeting where City Engineer Dan Sturm gave an updat

    July 25, 2014

  • Silence continues on fatal shooting OTTUMWA — Law enforcement is exercising its right to remain silent about a shooting death that occurred south of town this week. The Wapello County Sheriff's Office, which had responded to the shooting, said most information on the case would now com

    July 25, 2014

  • 0726 OTT cedar creek Gone in a flash

    BLOOMFIELD — Bob Parker got about as close to lightning as you can Friday morning, and came out of it without injury. A line of thunderstorms started moving through southeast Iowa in the early morning hours. Parker was heading to work at about 7 a.m.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Resolution — Techel verdict reached

    DAVENPORT — The father of a slain Wapello County woman said he began to heal as soon as he heard the guilty verdict today. The jury unanimously pronounced Seth Techel, 23, guilty on charges of first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a h

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0726 OTT Garden Bites III Color Photo -T Garden Bites sees growth BLOOMFIELD — Nearly one month ago, families gathered at Pioneer Ridge Nature Center to plant various vegetables to harvest and eat on Thursday at Garden Bites. The program allows families to get their hands a bit dirty at Pioneer Ridge and plant food

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0725 OTT Riverfront design A new outlook on Ottumwa OTTUMWA — A "River Renaissance" is brewing in Wapello County. Planners working for Christian Rushing Studio from Tennessee took the public's ideas, and gave them life via maps, numerical projections and artists' renderings. "Hold onto your seats; you

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Police to parents: check kids' online activities BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield police chief says the arrests of nine men in connection with sexting a teenage girl underscores the need for parents to keep an eye on their children online. Chief Shawn Armstrong said cases involving one or two people are

    July 24, 2014

  • 0725 OTT birthday rumble -T -M Age 106, still ready to rumble OTTUMWA — With the stories flowing, Celma Birdsall had the ride of her life Thursday. "She shared a lot of memories," said her chauffeur for the day, Dennis Parrish. Birdsall has built up a lot of stories over the 106 years she's been around. After h

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0725 OTT College Connections color photo -T -M IHCC eases transition to college OTTUMWA — When choosing a college that's just right for you, it is important to find one that works its hardest to ensure your success as a student. Indian Hills Community College is doing just that this week with a College Connections Workshop spons

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

Photo reprints


Obituaries

Facebook