Great Moments in Packaging: No 5 – Bubble Wrap
We all love bubble wrap. Go on, who can honestly say they’ve never spent a pleasant ten or fifteen minutes popping the bubbles on a sheet that’s arrived wrapped around a present or purchase? Exactly; and if you’re like me, you’ll do it before you use whatever it was it was protecting!
In fact, we tend to take the fact that the parcel’s contents have arrived safely for granted; all we want to do is get popping!
We don’t think about it anymore, because we just accept that bubble wrap packaging is one of the most effective and reliable means of protecting items in transit. So a hearty congratulations to inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, who in 1957 managed to devise a packaging material, stress reliever, therapy tool and toy all in one. And more. They just didn’t know it at the time.
Messrs Fielding and Chavannes entered packaging folklore by sealing two sheets of shower curtain together in a garage in Hawthorne, New Jersey. The idea was to create a new kind of wallpaper, but when that failed to stick, they tried selling it as greenhouse insulation instead. Nothing much grew out of that either. It actually took a few years before its use as a protective packaging material came to them; the story goes that Albert Fielding was on an aeroplane coming into land. As it descended, it seemed to be gently cushioned by a cloud and a giant lightbulb went off over his head.
Shortly afterwards, they gained their first customer when IBM used it to pack their 1401 Data Processing System units before shipment. The rest, as they say, is history.
They may not have realised it, but by heading down two seemingly wrong paths with their new product, Fielding and Chavannes were merely demonstrating that bubble wrap is probably the most adaptable item in the world today. It’s even now officially a work of art – New York’s Museum of Modern Art features it on their website, in the Architecture & Design section (though not, sadly, as an actual exhibition at the museum).
And appreciation has come in many other forms, too, including over a million people who ‘Like’ it on over 250 different Facebook pages and even a Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, celebrated every year on the last Monday in January.
Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes both died in 1994.
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