A Simple History of Paperboard

4/4/2018

You want to sound smart in front of customers and colleagues, right? Fortunately, you don’t have to be a scholar in packaging studies to become a knowledge leader in the industry! Start by checking out this quick history of paper and paperboard packaging. Armed with a few unique facts, you’ll be able to strike up engaging and exciting conversations at your next professional event. Here’s a good factoid to pull out: “Did you know that the folding carton was invented by mistake?”

Papermaking
Although the word “paper” is derived from the Egyptian term “papyrus,” papermaking as we know it today traces its origins to second century A.D. China. Ts'ai Lun, a member of the court of the later Han Dynasty, first carried out the process when he poured a mixture of Mulberry tree fibers and water into a sieve-like bamboo box that contained a porous cloth. After letting the water drain, Lun pressed and dried the remaining mat of fibers, forming a finished sheet of paper.

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that machines were developed to mass produce paper and certain forms of paperboard. 1830 saw the introduction of the Fourdrinier Machine, which produced homogenous or single-ply sheets of boxboard in various thicknesses. Soon the cylinder mould machine hit the market, allowing for the mass production of multi-layered or multi-ply sheets of paperboard. Highly refined versions of these two original technologies still reign as the primary methods for producing paper and paperboard throughout the world today.

Paperboard Packaging
Until the mid to late 1800s, it was rare to see packaging of any kind. In fact, merchandising as we know it today was virtually non-existent. Products were distributed in any available container.

The turning point was when the supply of consumer goods caught up with demand, and even began to exceed it. When this excess supply brought on widespread market competition, packaging became a key tool for expanding a product’s reach beyond local markets, and for informing potential customers about the manufacturer’s identity as well as the virtues of the product. Packaging also came to assure that consumers were receiving safe and high-quality product.

The history of paperboard packaging began as early as 1839 when Aaron L. Dennison, a Boston-based jeweler, began commercially producing rigid boxes for himself and other local jewelers. By 1850, his business had expanded to include boxes for a wide assortment of small products. Within ten years, others established their own boxmaking plants and began developing specialized equipment to increase production and reduce costs.

Soon after the invention of rigid boxes came the folding cartons, which represented a new possibility for paperboard packaging as they could be shipped flat and set up by the customer—unlike rigid boxes, which remain erect.

It was not until 1879 that an inexpensive method for mass-producing folding cartons was developed, and believe it or not, it all began by mistake! A pressman in the Robert T. Gair box plant had failed to notice that, due to a poor press make-ready, the printing plates in use were nearly cutting through the paperboard. This ruined job gave Gair the idea to develop steel rules, lock them into a form, put them on a platen press, and in a single operation, cut and crease carton blanks.

In 1896, the paperboard packaging industry received a huge push forward when the National Biscuit Company introduced their Uneeda soda cracker. Packaged in an inner waxed paper wrap, a folding carton shell, and a colorful branded overwrap, the crackers established the folding carton as a premier means for packaging, marketing, and distributing product on a national scale.

The Paperboard Package Today
Since the turn of the last century, the paperboard packaging industry has experienced tremendous growth, and today represents a roughly $10 billion industry in the U.S. Offering dependable product protection and endless possibilities for brand communication, paperboard has become a premier choice for CPGs and their consumers alike. 

Ready to become even more of an expert on paperboard packaging? The next step is to understand how folding cartons are made. Complex and fascinating, the manufacturing process includes pre-press structural and graphic design, printing, cutting, finishing, and more.

To learn the ins and outs of the process, we invite you to attend PPC’s Folding Carton Boot Camp on May 8-9, 2018. The two-day workshop is designed to familiarize learners with the entire process of boxmaking, from managed forest to the store shelf. Visit paperbox.org/bootcamp to learn more. 

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