A complete and utter history of loose fill packaging. Prologue.


Just because there were no packing peanuts before 1962, it doesn’t mean that up till then people just dropped things loosely into their cardboard boxes and cartons and hoped for the best.

All manner of things were employed in an attempt to stop things getting broken; in fact, anything that lay to hand could be and was used, especially by military personnel serving overseas. According to the Plastic Loose Fill Council – yes it does exist, yes it’s American, and yes I am rushing off my membership application today; it even has a ‘Peanut Hotline’! – this could include shredded paper, rubberised horse hair and popcorn.


The problem with packing parcels with popcorn

Quite why the American military felt that filling their boxes with popcorn was a better idea than eating it is unexplained. Surely, you feel, there must have been something better around that could be pressed into service? Or was it just that, deep in their psyche, they knew that food and loose fill packaging were inextricably linked? That somehow, by filling their parcels with this most illogical of packaging materials, they were setting into motion an association that would continue far into the distant future.

The almost inevitable result was that parcels started arriving in the US containing not only broken valuables (most things being used were not, as the current buzz phrase has it, ‘fit for purpose’), but also random debris, fungus and dangerous vermin. Such was the extent of the problem, indeed, that the US military and postal services, in a move that could have threatened the entire future of loosefill packaging, as well as the major theme of this series of blogs, were compelled to ban the use of all food-based packaging materials.


Enter the hero

It was in the midst of this crisis that Robert E Holden of a company called Tektronix in Aloha, Oregon, stepped into the breach with a solution that would change the very face of packaging forever. His patent application describes – in some considerable detail – a “loose fill packing material in the form of a plurality of expanded members of resilient thermoplastic foam which are made in an interlocking configuration in order to prevent relative movement between adjacent members”. The patent was filed on 21 December 1962 and granted on 6 June 1965.

Despite Mr Holden’s name being clearly on the patent – which can be seen here – at the time of writing this Prologue, the only other place on the entire internet you’ll find him properly linked with the invention of loose fill is on the Davpack blog. His exact role in its invention is certainly unclear, but nonetheless I feel it is now my duty to give him his rightful place in history.

Next time we’ll look at how our “plurality of expanded members of resilient thermoplastic foam” developed over the next few and how food became an even more intrinsic part of their make-up.

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Dave Smith

With a background that has included spells in marketing and editorial management in the publishing and performing arts industries, Dave is now a valued member of Davpack’s marketing team, where he is our lead blogger and senior copywriter. Still relatively new to the business, he will be aiming to look at the world of cardboard boxes and packaging materials from a slightly different angle to the usual. Davpack

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