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
  • 0724 OTT Kitchen Science color photo -L -T Kitchen science sparks curiosity OTTUMWA — A lucky group of children spent Wednesday morning experimenting with kitchen science and creating geysers of foam at the Knights of Columbus hall. The Kitchen Science performance was presented by Waterloo's Grout Museum and is part of the O

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Making something of themselves OTTUMWA — Community leaders this week heard how Ottumwa's Job Corps started from nothing yet became successful. But they also heard from students who said they were doing nothing until they found success through Job Corps. "After I dropped out of hig

    July 23, 2014

  • New charges filed in abuse case OTTUMWA — A single charge against a man for sexual abuse has been replaced by a new trial information, and authorities are throwing the book at him. Grant Troxel was initially charged in early June with sexual abuse. But the new list of charges indic

    July 23, 2014

  • 0724 OTT car investigation color photo -L Tip led to Tuesday arrest OTTUMWA — There was more to the incident Tuesday in which officers surrounded a car near U.S. Bank in downtown Ottumwa than just a routine traffic stop. Police Chief Tom McAndrew said Jason Tobek, 36, is in custody and faces charges of interference w

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Prosecution: All evidence points to Techel as killer DAVENPORT — Just as all roads lead to Rome, so all evidence points to a Wapello County man accused of killing his wife, according to the prosecution. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Prosser, who is prosecuting the case for the third time, said defe

    July 23, 2014

  • Eldon man gets five year prison term KEOSAUQUA — An Eldon man was sentenced to five years in prison in Van Buren District Court for his role in an October 2012 altercation in Selma, which escalated into shots being fired into the home or Randall Ritz, 11883 Bridge St., Selma. Donald E.

    July 23, 2014

  • Emergency council meeting Friday OTTUMWA — Ottumwa’s City Council will meet for a second time this week, this time to discuss an emergency problem at the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility. The special meeting will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday in the council chambers. Earlier

    July 23, 2014

  • 0723 OTT Riverfront color photo -L -M Ideas flow at Riverfront Renaissance workshop OTTUMWA — Ideas flowed as freely as the river itself Tuesday evening as more than 100 Ottumwans shared their vision of what the riverfront can be.The Riverfront Renaissance design charrette, sponsored by the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, drew p

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kids … not cash OTTUMWA — From a project that started with nothing, supporters created a top-notch education facility for at-risk youth. Someone in on the project from the beginning shared the story. Wapello County Supervisor Jerry Parker addressed a community advis

    July 22, 2014

  • Staying healthy during extreme heat OTTUMWA — After unusually cool temperatures last week, it may have been easy to forget how the heat of summer feels, but an incoming heat wave will quickly remind you. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heat is the No.

    July 22, 2014

Photo reprints


Obituaries

Facebook