Walter H. Deubener

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Winning Nomination

In 1919, Walter Deubener became attracted to a young woman, Lydia, working at a convenience store on the corner of 7th St. and Cedar Ave. in St. Paul, now the site of the World Trade Center. Visiting her while she worked, he noticed many customers shopping with their own bags, often inadequate to carry home their purchases. So Walter designed a paper bag with two cords that looped underneath and on top, forming handles. He and Lydia made up prototypes that were enthusiastically received. In short order, he obtained a patent and contracted production with a factory in Ohio. The shopping bag with handles was born! In the 1930s he sold his company for several million dollars and in retirement he and Lydia built a large family lodge up north. After their deaths, it was donated to become Camp Courage. I submit this humble idea is used by more people daily than the Bundt pan, Post-it notes, or Scotch tape, and it began right here in St. Paul.
~Chuck Phenix, St. Paul, MN


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History

(1887-1980)

How would we get along without them?

Some things are so commonplace that we forget there are inventors behind them. In 1918, Walter and Lydia Deubener were operating a small grocery stand in the Kresge dime store in downtown St. Paul (where the World Trade Center is today). They were part of a new trend in grocery sales--the cash-and-carry method had begun to replace home delivery during World War I, due to a depleted workforce and rising prices. Ordinary brown bags were the norm, but for savvy retailers like the Deubeners, they just didn't hold up. "Many times a day I would notice that a customer's purchases were limited by her arms rather than by her pocketbook," Walter Deubener later told a Scientific American reporter.

Deubener tried various methods, including wrapping customers' purchases together with heavy string attached to a wooden handle or supplying customers with market baskets, but nothing worked. "Month after month we wrestled with the problem," recalled Deubener.

Finally, genius struck. Deubener imagined his invention one night, and the next day he quickly made a paper prototype with cord handles. He patented his invention in 1919. When it could carry fifty pounds of groceries without a hitch, Deubener knew he had struck gold. He and Lydia sold a million handled bags at five cents each in 1919 and more than ten million in 1927. They moved their booming business to Indianapolis in 1928.

Walter Deubener went on to invent other things, from the "Jingleloon" musical balloon to a wastepaper compactor. After selling their shopping bag business in the 1930s, he and Lydia became real estate developers and philanthropists. In 1937, they built Deep in the Pines, a vacation area for family and friends in northern Minnesota. In 1971, their family resort became Courage North, a camp operated by Courage Center to serve children and adults with physical disabilities and sensory impairments.

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