December 20, 2012 - Anniversary of a Stepping-Stone to Corrugated Cardboard

 Inventions that don't move us around, make noise, or cost a lot of money are sometimes pretty invisible, but the humble cardboard box has made a big contribution in packing, storing, and shipping things that are yummier or shinier or more electric. And somebody had to invent the cardboard box.

I'm sure you've noticed the difference between “cardboard” cereal boxes and “cardboard” packing boxes. Cereal boxes don't have to be super strong, so a single layer of very thick, heavy paper does the trick. The stuff that makes up cereal boxes is often called paperboard.

Corrugated cardboard boxes are ever so much stronger. They are generally made up of two layers of thick paperboard with a layer of corrugated (rippled or pleated) paperboard in between.

But modern-day corrugated cardboard wasn't invented in a single step, of course. Few things are! Someone in England wanted to make paper strong enough to stand up as a liner for tall hats and (in 1856) invented a way to make permanent “pleats” in paperboard by pressing it with a hot corrugated metal form. On this day in 1871, Albert Jones of New York City used that corrugation idea but lined one side of the corrugated paperboard with regular paperboard— thereby making a material that was even stronger but still flexible. He used the paper to wrap bottles and glass lantern chimneys. Some people use one-sided corrugated cardboard to wrap cylindrical things even today.

But to make strong cartons, the corrugated cardboard had to be even thicker, stronger, and more rigid. The last step to making what is now the most familiar sort of corrugated cardboard was taken by Oliver Long in 1874, when he lined both sides of the corrugated paperboard with regular paperboards. Now the cardboard could be made into cartons and packing boxes!

Humble inventions that make a big difference...

Look around you. What sorts of inventions probably didn't get big press but still made a big difference?

Some folks at London's Science Museum said that seemingly ordinary things are often so ingeniously designed that they are manufactured for years with no substantial design changes. Their list of humble-yet-important inventions includes pencils, paperclips, barcodes, ring binders, bubble wrap, snap fasteners, egg cartons, rubber bands, light bulbs, adhesive tape, coat hangers, Velcro, tin cans, corkscrews, tissue paper, ballpoint pens, Legos, ear muffs, Post-it-Notes, umbrellas, six-pack carriers, safety matches, tea bags, milk cartons, and folding rules. Plus more! What would you include on the list?

Also on this date:


Anniversary of first cantilever bridge over Niagara Falls

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