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The History of Cardboard Boxes

Updated on July 8, 2011

Boxes. Could anything be simpler, yet more ingenious than a box? They come in all sizes, but mostly in one shape. If you find a box that’s not a square or a rectangle, can it still be called a box? A box that is not a variation of a square shape really should be named in honor of the shape it has taken. A hexagon, a pentagon, etcetera. And if one is describing a box that is not really a square box shape, one usually has to go into lengthy explanations when describing the item.

“Well, it’s a box but it has 6 sides, it’s about 10 inches tall….yes, I know, it’s not really a box, more of a container for a specifically shaped item.”

Boxes are great. You can mail stuff in them, store things in them, put other boxes in bigger boxes, ship products in boxes, give someone a beautifully wrapped present in a box, use a box cutter on the seams and fold one flat in less than five seconds. You can send cookies to your son who’s living in a foreign country (not that it sounds safe), you can send a care package to your daughter who moved away to college, and you can ship that useless gadget that you sold to somebody through eBay.

When you think about boxes, you usually visualize plain brown cardboard squares. You don’t assume it’s made of plastic, although plastic boxes are manufactured. Also known as bins and storage containers, they are loosely in the same family as the traditional cardboard boxes. What would manufacturers do without boxes to ship their products in? Really, what are your options when it comes to shipping small items? Bags, certainly, but you couldn’t ship a case of tuna fish in 5 ½ oz cans in a bag. It just wouldn’t look right. When we visited a Canadian WalMart last year, I saw Milk in bags in the refrigerated section. That’s just not right for some reason, but I can’t quite put my finger on why that looked so wrong. But I guess you couldn’t sell milk in a brown cardboard box either. People have their standards of expectation.

Boxes are amazing. American, Robert Gair invented the corrugated cardboard box in 1870. Iwonder where he got the idea in the first place. Since I was curious, Google sent me to an article on papermaking ( and I learned that 2 British guys invented corrugated paper in 1856 to line men’s tall hats. Trust an American to take that invention and put a new and useful spin on it. Boxes are so useful that most Americans can usually find at least one or two around the house at any given time. They are so plentiful that they are thrown out with the trash, but hopefully with increased recycling efforts those numbers will go down. Which leads me to another thought: if all boxes are recycled, where will homeless people sleep on a chilly fall night? They really count on those large appliance boxes for that roomy feel (no pun intended).


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    • crassnsilly profile image

      crassnsilly 4 years ago from leigh-on-sea

      That's brilliant. Imagine the work that goes into designing those little protective cardboard sleeves that protect light bulbs, and similar things. I would have loved to have trained as a cardboard engineer. And the smell of cardboard takes one back to Christmases long ago, opening presents.

    • profile image

      Chuck 6 years ago


    • ShyeAnne profile image

      ShyeAnne 6 years ago from Deep Bay, British Columbia, Canada

      what an original hub on a very common product, good for you!