Life In LC


They Are Very Useful, But Where Did They Come From?

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They come in a variety of sizes and even shapes. My garage is full of them and if I had an attic I’m sure they would be found there also. It is amazing just how versatile they really are. It’s amazing that something so simple can be so useful. When I was a kid we used to use them to build a fort and the really big ones were great for sliding down the hills in summertime. If you haven’t guessed yet I’m referring to the cardboard box. I have lived all over the country and as a result had to move all of our belongings with me. Most of the packing involved collecting things together and placing them in a cardboard box, taping them shut, and then labeling the box as to it’s contents ready for unpacking.

Tall Hats
Tall Hats (Lined with cardbboard) | image by

It occurred to me that I had no idea who developed the first cardboard box and how they made the cardboard itself. The following is the result of my delving into the history of the ever-present cardboard box. We need to start first with the material used to make the cardboard boxes. According to Wikipedia “Corrugated (also called pleated) paper was patented in England in 1856, and used as a liner for tall hats, but corrugated boxboard was not patented and used as a shipping material until 20 December 1871.” reports that on December 20, 1871 that “New Yorker Albert Jones received the first U.S. patent for corrugated paperboard, which he proposed as a packing and shipping material.” They went on to say “Albert Jones’ patent was the first that specifically proposed it as an improved packing material.”

Corrugated Cardboard
Corrugated Cardboard Layers | Image by

Back to Wikipedia: “The first machine for producing large quantities of corrugated board was built in 1874 by G. Smyth, and the same year Oliver Long improved upon Jones’ design by inventing corrugated board with liner sheets on both sides, thereby inventing corrugated board as it came to be known in modern times.

Robert Gair's Patent
Robert Gair’s Paper Box Patent | image by

In 1890 Robert Gair, a Scottish-born inventor, devised the pre-cut paperboard box comprised of flat pieces manufactured in bulk that were then folded into boxes. Gair had a printing and paper bag making company in Brooklyn, New York in the 1870s.He noticed that while the bags were being made a ruler that was supposed to crimp the bag actually slipped out of position and cut it. This accident gave him the idea to set the machine to crimp and cut the paper at the same time. He used that process to make prefabricated paperboard boxes. It was a short step to use his machine to crimp and cut corrugated cardboard to make boxes. Delicate items like glass containers and pottery were the first to be packaged in corrugated cardboard boxes to prevent breakage.

By the middle 1950s corrugated cardboard boxes were in general use to pack fresh fruit and produce to prevent bruising and prevent spoilage.

Corrugated Box Machine
Corrugated Box Machine | Image by corrugated

The manufacturing process that produces cardboard is more complicated than you might think.  I’ll refer to Wikipedia’s explanation. “Corrugated board is manufactured on large high-precision machinery lines called corrugates, usually running at about 500 feet per minute (150m/min) or more.” “The key raw material in corrugating is paper, different grades for each layer making up the corrugated box. Due to supply chain and scale considerations, paper is produced in separate plants called paper mills. Most corrugating plants keep an inventory of paper reels.”

Carton Box Machine
Carton Box Machine | Image by

High-pressure steam is used to soften the paper. The board is formed in what is called the dry-end where the corrugated board is heated by hot plates from underneath. Various pressures are applied on the top by a load system on the belt. “At the single-facer it is heated, moistened, and formed into a fluted pattern on geared wheels. This is joined to a fat linerboard with a starch based adhesive to form a single face board. At the double-backer, a second flat liner board is adhered to the other side of the fluted medium to form single wall corrugated board.” The liner may be bleached white, mottled white, colored or preprinted.”

Unfolded Box
Cardboard Box Before Folding | Photo by Autodesk, Inc.

The boxes are designed for the types of products they will contain. The regular slotted containers the most common box style. All of the flaps are the same length from the score to the edge. The longer major flaps usually meet in the middle, but the minor flaps don’t. “The manufacturer’s joint is most often joined with adhesive but may also be taped or stitched.”

Now that you know where they came from and how they are made you should have a greater appreciation of the simple cardboard box.

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