Whether we realize it or not, cardboard surrounds us.
Before the invention of cardboard boxes, wooden crates were used for packaging, shipping, and transportation, which were extremely expensive and not as efficient in safely transporting fragile goods. Another major disadvantage was that, unlike cardboard, they could not be replicated in bulk.
So let’s look at the journey and evolution of cardboard through history to what they have become today.
The earliest cardboard can be traced back to Ancient China, about 3-4 thousand years ago. This is not surprising since the Chinese are also the ones who invented paper around the same time. The ‘cardboard’ they used was sheets of treated Mulberry tree bark for wrapping and preserving foods. This seems familiar to one of the ways we use cardboard for packaging of foods, doesn’t it?
Cardboard eventually slowly reached the West due to the Silk Road and trading between the European and Chinese empires. However what is mind-boggling is that it was not used for storing or in its box form, rather as a printing material and something to be written on, according to the well-known author of typography, Theodore Low De Vinne.
In 1816, Malcolm Thornhill made the first single-sheet cardboard, and the first documented use of cardboard for storing was for storing a popular German war strategy board game. This shows just how we have not changed that much in so many years since we still use cardboard in the manufacturing of board games like scrabble and monopoly and can’t imagine a childhood without them, can we?
Similarly, in 1840, cardboard was popularized in France for transporting eggs from Japan so that they would not break.
In 1856, the corrugated paper was invented for the lining of top-hats for the English elite. The material of cardboard was used as people wanted perfect hats with decorative packing and so, cardboard began to be used so the hats would not lose their shape.
However, it was in 1871 that corrugated cardboard came to be used as a means for shipping and handling materials on a bigger scale. The most significant innovation was in 1890 when Robert Gair invented pre-cut cardboard that could be manufactured in bulk and then folded into boxes. Gair’s factory mass-produced foldable boxes which were used for small items like tea, tobacco, toothpaste, and cosmetics. It was this leap in product packaging that eventually led to an exponential increase in the sale of such boxes.
In 1939 during World War Two, the UK government provided boxes of cardboard to its citizens in order to protect them from lethal gases by using them as masks.
A more innovative use of cardboard was in 1983 when more than 200 displaced people were relocated to homes which were made up of cardboard, known “as cardboard city” and then in 2005, Melbourne architect Peter Ryan framed design of a whole house that was composed of cardboard.
One of the reasons these have remained popular even in the wake of the threat of climate change and in the socially conscious world of today is that they are biodegradable and environmentally friendly. They can be reused and recycled, over and over again. The alternative is plastic, which is not biodegradable and not suited for the environment. Another benefit is that they do not take up as much space as compared to plastics, wood, and glass.
Today, they have multiple uses. People are not just attracted to plain, old, brown cardboard boxes; instead, they prefer custom cardboard boxes. These can come in various shapes, sizes, and colours of a person’s own choosing. This is particularly helpful when, for example, a family is relocating. Each family member can sort their belongings in such a box, so it’s easy to distinguish later, and mothers can sort the various types of items such as clothes, furniture, ornaments in custom cardboard boxes.
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