Who Knew? The Unique History of the Cardboard Box

There’s an old saying about necessity being the mother of invention. Know who said it? Well, it’s an old English proverb, and the original author is unknown, although it has been falsely attributed to Plato. Let’s have a history lesson, shall we?


Imagine a world without cardboard boxes! How would your Amazon boxes arrive? How would bananas travel? Where would your Lucky Charms, (and afterward your leprechaun trap) live?


Sir Malcolm Thornhill asked himself those same questions back in 1817 (and we swear, those were the SAME questions he asked) He decided to use single sheets of thick paper to make boxes, and VOILA! Game changer. The cardboard box was born.  Around 1840, silk manufacturers started using cardboard boxes to transport moths and eggs from Japan to Europe. In the 1890s, cardboard boxes finally went mainstream when the Kellogg Company started using it as packaging for their cereals. Personally, we had no idea that Kellogg had been around that long, so not only did we learn a ton about cardboard, we are learning about cereal too! You can read about the history of cereal here


Flash forward almost 70 years, and two Englishmen (Man, those English really paved the way for us, didn’t they?) Edward C. Healy and Edward E. Allen patented corrugated paper in 1856, but it was merely used as hat lining. In 1871, New Yorker Albert L. Jones patented single-sided corrugated board and the packaging industry started using it to wrap bottles and glass lanterns.


Talk about Serendipity! In 1890, a Brooklyn printer and paper bag manufacturer called Robert Gair accidentally invented the precut box when he was printing paper bags and a metal ruler – which he used to crease bags -suddenly shifted, cutting the bags. Gair put two and two together and realized he could make precut paperboard boxes by cutting and creasing paperboard in one operation. In 1895 he applied his idea to corrugated cardboard and introduced the first corrugated cardboard box to the world. The world welcomed Gair’s corrugated cardboard boxes with open arms and it didn’t take long until wooden crates and boxes all over the world were being replaced with cardboard boxes.


Box Living – The Next HGTV Show?

So, what’s new in the world of corrugated? US architect Peter Melbourne took the cardboard box to a whole new level when he designed and built a house made entirely from cardboard boxes – and yes, you can actually live in it! And check our earlier post about a kid in California who created an entire arcade made of corrugated.  Its inspired kids all over the world to use their imaginations and engineering skills to invent new uses for boxes.