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The History of Cardboard Boxes

Oct 24, 2007
The simple cardboard box plays an important, but unsung role in our modern society. It's hard to imagine how we ever got along before they were invented but they have only been in common use for the last hundred years or so. The story of this simple but important invention follows.

Cardboard boxes are industrially prefabricated boxes, which are primarily used for packaging goods and materials or for moving. The first commercial cardboard box was produced in England in 1817 by Sir Malcolm Thornhil and the first cardboard box manufactured in the United States was made in 1895.

By 1900, wooden crates and boxes were being replaced by corrugated paper shipping cartons. The advent of flaked cereals increased the use of cardboard boxes. The first to use cardboard boxes as cereal cartons were the Kellogg brothers.

In France the cardboard box has an even longer history. The Mus du Cartonnage et de l'Imprimerie (Museum of the Cardboard Box) in Valreas, France traces the history of cardboard box making in the region and notes that cardboard boxes have been used there since 1840 for transporting the Bombyx mori moth and its eggs from Japan to Europe by silk manufacturers. In addition, for more than a century the manufacture of cardboard boxes was a major industry in the area.

Cardboard boxes and children

A common cliche says that if a child is given a large and expensive new toy, he/she will quickly become bored with the toy and play with the box instead.

Although this is usually said somewhat jokingly, children certainly enjoy playing with boxes, using their imagination to portray the box as an infinite variety of objects.

One example of this from popular culture is Calvin of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. He often used a cardboard box for imaginative purposes from a "transmogrifier" to a time machine

So prevalent is the cardboard box's reputation as a plaything that in 2005 a cardboard box was added to the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is one of the very few non-brand-specific toys to be honored with inclusion. In addition, a toy cardboard box "house" (actually a log cabin) made from a large cardboard box was also added to the Hall, housed at the Strong - National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

Another more somber use of the cardboard box is the stereotypical image of homeless people living in a cardboard box. In 2005 Melbourne architect Peter Ryan actually designed a house composed largely of cardboard.

A vital item of commerce, a toy for children, a home of last resort, these are just some of the roles played by cardboard boxes in the last two hundred years.
About the Author
Ann Knapp writes for Safecutters Inc. a distributor of the Klever Kutter and Klever Koncept - among the safest packaging cutting utility knives available. It virtually eliminates the risk of workplace injuries, while the permanently shielded blade protects packaged products. Klever Kutter has been approved by the Department of Homeland Security for safe air transport. For more information about Safecutters products, visit Safecutters
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