What are Cardboard Containers?

A. B. Kelsey

Cardboard containers are commercially produced boxes made out of corrugated fiberboard or paperboard. These containers have two flat outside layers called “liners” and a corrugated central part called “fluting.” The liners are created from the long, strong fibers of softwoods. The fluting is produced with short fibers that are stiff enough to hold a heavy weight. Air is allowed to circulate around in the fluting, which provides excellent protection against temperature fluctuations. All of these factors make cardboard containers ideal for packaging and shipping products.

An empty cardboard box.
An empty cardboard box.

Corrugated paper products were first used commercially in Victorian England by the fashion industry. In 1856, two Englishmen decided to use a hand-cranked collar press to produce "pleated" paper linings for the tall, stiff hats so popular with men at that time. The corrugated paper turned out to be stronger than plain paper and the fluting provided extra cushioning in the hatband.

Cardboard containers are commonly used for packaging and shipping purposes.
Cardboard containers are commonly used for packaging and shipping purposes.

Corrugated paperboard was first used to ship items in 1871, when Albert Jones of New York City, New York, decided to use it to wrap glass chimneys and bottles. In 1874, a machine was invented that could manufacture large quantities of corrugated paperboard. That same year, Oliver Long created corrugated paperboard that had liners on both sides instead of just one.

Scottish printer Robert Gair of Brooklyn, NY, accidentally invented paper boxes during the 1870s. Mr. Gair was working on an order for paper seed bags when his metal ruler shifted position and cut the bags instead of creasing them. Gair found that if he cut and creased the bags in a single operation, he could easily make prefabricated paper boxes. When corrugated paperboard became available, he simply applied his theory to the new material and prefabricated cardboard containers were invented.

By the onset of the 20th century, cardboard containers began replacing the custom-made wooden boxes and crates previously used for trade. Corrugated cardboard containers were initially used to package more fragile products like pottery and glass items. The containers were soon being used to ship fruits and vegetables from the farm to the seller with far less bruising and waste.

Cardboard containers slipped in popularity during the 1970s and 1980s when the use of plastics increased. In recent years, however, environmental concerns have caused cardboard containers to become increasingly popular again. Corrugated cardboard containers are produced with recycled and recyclable cellulose fibers and the glue is typically made with natural products such as maize.

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