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Plastic bag pioneer sets our record straight

In the April issue of MPW, our Notable Processors feature included a profile of Leon Farahnik, noting "he started a new company that eventually grew into Hilex-Poly, the world's largest processor of plastic shopping bags, leading the transition from paper to plastic bags at the country's grocery stores." Respectfully taking issue with the verb "leading" is Bob "Bagsy" Siegel.

Siegel wrote to tell us that, while he agrees Leon Farahnik deserves inclusion in any list of Notable Processors, in fact it was he, Siegel, who led the transition from paper to plastics in the U.S. "I am the undisputed grandfather of the plastic grocery bag in the U.S., and the transition from paper to plastic bags at supermarkets," is how he put it.

This included the sales, marketing, and manufacturing of the product. "I pioneered the product as the first with the formation of Celloplast USA, a subsidiary of a Swedish company that invented the bag. I was the first manufacturer of what has become known as the T-shirt bag, as its appearance has the look of a man's undershirt, which are the handles of the bag," explained Siegel. He noted, "This bag construction created a whole new industry of extruders, printing presses, and bag making machinery to gain a competitive edge through increased productivity, and is the most widely accepted bag construction in the industry today."

Siegel's own background in the industry goes back to 1954, which he notes was just "a few years after the beginning of poly bags for carrots, potatoes, onions, apples and other produce."  

Why argue the point, we asked? His great answer: "Because man's life achievements are few and far between, and it just seems that history should know the right person who is the responsible guy that 'knocked paper off the front end of the supermarket counters' when they said it couldn't be done."  

Celloplast USA's parent company also was named Celloplast, based in Norrkoping, Sweden. Recalls Siegel, "There were three inventors of the product and the manufacturing process that made the bag. They held worldwide patents including such countries as Canada, the U.S., Italy, Great Britain, Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Their names were Curt Lindquist, Sten Thulin, and Jan Oelander."

There were lawsuits over the patent in the U.S., said Siegel, but those were unsuccessful. The actual introduction of the T-shirt bag in the U.S. came about, he said, after he found Celloplast displaying the product at Ipack Ima, the packaging machinery and materials trade show in Milan, Italy, "which I attended frequently in the '60s, as well as Drupa, in Germany." Drupa, a printing tradeshow, and Ipack Ima both still are held to this day.  

Siegel has promised to send us some promotional material involving the company when it opened its second plant in the U.S. in 1980.  

Siegel's trademark slogan used during the bag's introduction was, "Checkmate, the game is over for paper grocery sacks." And that is the rest of the plastic bag story. Matt Defosse

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