A complete and utter history of loose fill packaging. Introduction.
There is a commonly held belief that Eskimos (a word used here – inaccurately – to refer to anyone who lives in the frozen Arctic area) have a much larger number of words for snow than the rest of us. Inevitably, there has been a study into the matter, several in fact, as a result of which, some linguistic experts now confidently assert that actually they have the same number as exist in English. Which presumably means one. Others disagree.
The confusion has arisen because, instead of saying ‘flaky snow’, ‘wet snow’ or ‘snow that really shouldn’t be happening seeing as it’s early May’, they compress the whole concept into one compound word which, to untrained eyes and ears, makes it look and sound entirely different. (In case you’re wondering, they don’t just do this in snow-related chat, they do it all the time. By the same token, one might say that they also have a lot of different words for reindeer.)
Having solved this pressing etymological conundrum, may I suggest that, if the world’s linguistic experts are now short of something to do, they turn their attention to the world of packaging materials and investigate a far more intriguing matter, and that is the number of words and phrases we have for packing peanuts, or loose fill, or flow pack, or packing chips, or…well, you get the picture. I even came across a reference while researching this subject to ‘packing noodles’, which suggests that someone, somewhere, is eating very differently shaped noodles to me (or, conversely, that they are packing with very differently shaped void fill).
Food grade packaging?
You’ll already have noticed the constant references to food (peanuts, noodles, chips) and the connection is one that has run throughout the history of this packaging favourite. (I have previously referred to the striking similarity of the most recent version to arrive at Davpack – a particularly environmentally friendly product called Pak Natural Loosefill – to a popular cheese-based snack and will do so again repeatedly, and at every opportunity, until ‘packing cheesy wotsits’ becomes as accepted and regularly used a term as all the other items of food they apparently look like.)
Because not only has it looked like various items of food, it has also been made of food and even unofficially tasted like food.
Before we get on the history of the, erm, whatever you want to call it, however, we need to summarise how people stopped things getting broken in boxes before 21 December 1962, when one Robert E Holden, of Aloha, Oregon, filed an application with the US Patent Office for his ‘loose fill packing material’. But that’s for another day.
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