Nobody in the 1800s must have suspected the fundamental role corrugated cardboard boxes would play in the future.
105 AD, China. The fascinating history of corrugated cardboard boxes starts in Ancient China where paper – one of the greatest inventions of all time – was invented around 100 BC during the Han dynasty. However, it wasn’t until 105 AD that the likes of a paper-making industry was established by a government official named Ts’ai Lun. The resourceful businessman started producing paper with the help of a ground-breaking concoction of chopped mulberry bark, hemp rags and water. Ts’ai Lun’s paper production method of flattening the unusual mixture, removing the excess water and letting it dry in the sun proved to be a great success and quickly spread throughout China. It was primarily used to assist in storing food products to make them last longer.
- 1817. In 1817, the British industrialist Sir Malcolm Thornhill was the first person to produce commercial boxes from single cardboard sheets. However, the look and feel of Thornhill’s boxes had little in common with the unmistakable and extremely familiar design of the corrugated cardboard boxes of today.
- The corrugated paper was patented in England in 1856, and the patent was awarded to the British inventors Edward Allen and Edward Healey. Interestingly, the corrugated paper of that time was only used as a lining material for tall hats, and its practical usage as packing and shipping materials was not recognized until years later, 15 years to be exact.
- In 1871, the entrepreneur Albert Jones of New York was granted the patent for a single-sided corrugated board as a shipping material. He used the corrugated board to wrap glass bottles for safe shipping.
- The history of cardboard boxes continues with the actual invention of corrugated cardboard as we know it today. In 1874, a man by the name of Oliver Long took the next logical step and improved the corrugated board design by adding liner sheets on both sides of the cardboard. His brilliant idea took the crush resistance and stacking strength of the cardboard boxes of that time to another level; the newly-designed packing boxes could hold heavier loads without breaking and were allowed to be safely stacked much higher. The very first machine for mass production of double-sided corrugated boards was built the same year.
- It was left to a printer and a paper bag maker from Brooklyn to put the finishing touches to the modern corrugated cardboard box. In 1890, Robert Gair invented the pre-cut cardboard by sheer accident. One day, a metal ruler that was used to crease the bags in his factory malfunctioned and consequently cut the bags instead of crease them. The “unfortunate” accident that seemingly destroyed more than 20,000 seed bags made him realize that by cutting and creasing the cardboard material, he could make prefabricated cartons with flat pieces that folded into convenient packing boxes.