It's easy to forget about the packaging that keeps your food safe or that you use to wrap items you put in the mail, but the wrapping you use for these simple tasks has a long and storied history.
From the earliest days of civilization when man needed to transport food and possessions to the advanced materials used in today's shipping and fulfillment centers, packing has changed a lot in the past few millennia.
Packaging's Earliest Days
In a series of publications by the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department of the University of Florida, author Kenneth R. Berger wrote that early humans often used what they needed at the place where an event occurred. For example, after killing an animal for food, the family or group would congregate nearby to cook and feast.
However, early migrating humans often needed to pack food and possessions while traveling. Very early materials used for packaging included hollowed out gourds, seashells, and large leaves. As humans improved their capacity for travel, they started using items like the following:
- Animal organs
- Hollowed-out logs
- Woven grasses
But early human ingenuity didn't stop there. As time passed and humans began using advanced materials like metals and began making pottery, packaging soon included many other materials, designs, shapes, and sizes.
The Industrial Revolution
Some of the biggest changes to packaging occurred during the Industrial Revolution. According to career advice website Vault.com, the Industrial Revolution was the first time when packaging merged with marketing.
So many new inventions and products headed to the marketplace each year that a company had no chance of landing a sale unless they dressed a product in attractive packaging. This emphasis on attractive wrapping would continue throughout the 18th and 19th centuries until even greater change came in the form of plastics in the 20th century.
An interesting history from a member of the Waterboro Transfer Station and Recycling Committee in Maine revealed that packaging wasn't often considered trash until the Industrial Revolution.
Major Changes in the 20th Century
At the University of Delaware, a recent installation on the History of Product Packaging offers an incredible glimpse into early packaging in the first half and middle of the 20th century.
According to the Univ. of Delaware's Hagley Library, one of the most transformative events in packaging was the rise of grocery stores that took over the "mom & pop" shops and rural general stores. Advertisers suddenly needed to make packages look nice because their products were sold on vast shelves instead of in a tiny market with a sales clerk.
Often, new products in stores dictated developments in packaging. For example, washing machines that required laundry detergent needed packages capable of storing dishwashing chemicals. These packages also received attention from marketing design teams who added graphics and logos to these hardy bottles, boxes, and containers.
Advanced Materials and Packaging of the Future
One of the biggest concerns for packaging manufacturers today is the need for eco-friendly options. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that in 2012 alone, 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated and that almost 14 tons of that plastic came from containers and packaging. The packaging industry must pay attention to the planet's needs with earth-friendly options.
Some inventors showcase incredible creativity with their packaging, and the industry hopes to learn from these trailblazers to create packaging that uses less of the earth's resources and does its job to protect items. One fascinating type of packaging is the WikiCell, which is an edible packaging developed by a Harvard professor.
Sleek and sustainable, today's packaging options offer valuable protection for products, as well as significant marketing benefit. If your business is interested in using modern packaging solutions, let us know! Find out what we can do for your business. Request a Free Catalog and Sample Kit Today!