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Trapped in a Box: The History of Carton Revealed

Aug 17, 2007
We may not be aware of it but the simplest of materials we use for covering our food has been around for over centuries. Take a peek inside your pantry and try to see if you can find a milk carton, a carton full of eggs or even a carton of your favorite breakfast cereal.

Indeed, this centuries old packaging material is the carton.

Carton is often made out of a composite or of materials made out of two or more components. Cartons can be made out of a mixture of paper, pulp, wood or leaves. Its durability and stiffness makes it ideal for packaging heavy materials.

The carton has existed even before food manufacturers have used it for carrying eggs, milk, cereals, baking powder and other types of food. Although there have been a lot of materials discovered and used for wrapping and encasing, the carton still remains one of the most often used for packaging.

The carton first appeared in the 15th century in China and served different purposes. However, the first commercial carton was not used up until the 1817 when it was first produced in England.

The durable and sturdy carton that we know of today, on the other hand, would not have even existed if English hat makers in 1856 did not think of using it to line the bases of the hats they made. In fact, before this, carton was just a flimsy, thin type of paper that was not even considered to use for packaging.

The corrugated carton is the type of carton that has pleats attached to sheets of carton. These pleats of carton serve as support for carton sheets as it makes it more rigid and suitable for carrying weighty materials.

When the first corrugated cardboard was patented in 1856, it was mainly used in England for the bases of tall hats that were of fashion to English gentlemen.

It was only in December 20, 1871 when Albert Jones of New York, New York filed the patent for the corrugated carton. However, the corrugated carton Albert Jones patented back then only had a single-sided sheet of carton with the pleats attached to it.

The corrugated carton, from which the modern corrugated carton would be based from, was not produced up until 1874. During this time, Oliver Long, took Jones' design and incorporated another sheet to make it more stiff and suitable for packaging heavier materials.

Now bear in mind that these cartons were just sheets and were not yet the carton boxes that we know of today.

In 1890, an American named Robert Gait "accidentally" invented the corrugated carton box. Robert Gait was a printer and paper bag maker. While printing an order of seed bags, the metal ruler used to crease the bags swung and cut the bags instead.

Through this, Gait discovered that creasing and cutting the bags would make it easier for manufacturers to make pre-constructed cartons.

Instead of using the seed bags that he was printing on, he creased and cut corrugated cartons instead. So when the 20th century rolled in, wooden crates were replaced by cardboard boxes made out of corrugated carton.

Today's corrugated cartons are more intricately designed than those of the cartons used in earlier centuries. At present, the outer sheets are made to be puncture resistant. The pleats are also made up of a stronger wood-based type of paper to make the cartons sturdier and compression resistant.

Who would have thought that a piece of carton used to hold your day's breakfast can have so much history?
About the Author
James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of
TopCartonSites.com and writes expert
articles about cartons .
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