A Brief History of Packaging

Pizza in a box isolated on white backgroundPackaging is the art and in recent history, the modern science of enclosing goods, commodities or consumables to protect it during transportation, distribution, storage and use. Due to the extremely important function and wide variety of uses, packaging has been around since the dawn of time dating even to prehistoric man. The writing those guys in France made on the wall was probably done by charcoal packed in something. The Neanderthals weren’t big fans of packaging and that didn’t work out so well for them.

The prehistoric use of packaging was mostly for food containment and protection. Since food production was still relatively unknown and man had to rely on gathering and hunting, a lot of energy was devoted to ensuring food security. This led to the necessity to preserve food for later consumption and since man just couldn’t stay in one place, a means to carry food and protect it from the elements and from spoilage needed to be crafted. Hungry? Here, have some mammoth in an animal skin pouch. It’s so eco-friendly that if you want seconds you can always eat the packaging.

wine bottlesThe arrival of civilization ushered in more sophisticated forms of packaging. During the late Bronze Age, Ancient Egypt started to perfect glass blowing technology and they were able to mold glass into containers for a variety of purposes. This of course was restricted to the upper class due to the prohibitive cost of production. Fast-forward to a few centuries later in Classical Rome with packaging being heavily influenced by the Ancient Greeks and the use of pottery and clay vessels was in style. This form of packaging was especially essential to contain one of the most importantly consumed commodities of that time, wine. Wine was seen as a refinement worthy of a superior culture by the arrogant upper class and it was a tool used to satisfy the working class to hold them off and aid in their entertainment. Packaging during this time was more focused on protecting from tampering and from the elements but studies have shown that lead seals they used to package their goods may have caused the much shorter life expectancy the average Roman had.

Beer.Packaging in the medieval times all the way to the Age of Exploration revolved primarily around wood boxes and barrels. Provisions on sailing ships that would cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the British and Spanish Empires would be stored in barrels and these ranged from freshwater, rum, dried food and gunpowder. This form of packaging had its shortfalls and food could not be safely preserved through this method and thus there was a need to subsist on dried food for that long journey, which was less than desirable. Drinking water was also easily contaminated by vermin and could cause massive amounts of sickness among people who consumed it.

In 1805, Nicholas Appert devised a method of preserving all forms of food by stuffing them in glass jars and sealing them with cork and wax. The technique he invented was inspired by Napoleon’s call to develop a method to preserve army food supplies. Napoleon believed that while his army was facing imminent death in the face on enemy grounds it was imperative for them to enjoy fine French food. Apparently this worked well with his conquest of most of Europe until he met the Russian winter. Maybe he should have also found a method to preserve body heat too.

tin canThe use of metal to preserve food was invented in 1810 and by 1830 the first canned goods were being sold. The British Army and Navy, wishing it were invented a few decades earlier when they were facing a bunch of angry colonists, was the largest buyer of these canned goods. These cans were far from safe though, with danger of lead poisoning happening. An instance of this was the 1845 Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin that just vanished seemingly out of thin air. In 1984, after examining the exhumed and completely preserved remains of one of the crewmembers, it was confirmed that poisoning from their canned goods had a role in their deaths. Before you run to your cupboards and start throwing away your canned goods, don’t worry because we learned from the Romans and those guys and our canned goods today are very safe.

Paper, which has been used quite a lot throughout packaging history, received an upgrade in 1890 as the first folding carton was conceptualized by accident. When a metal rule used for creasing bags shifted and cut the bag instead, a printer by the name of Robert Gair got the idea to use this method in cutting cartons and turning them into prefabricated boxes. Thankfully it wasn’t his arm that turned into something prefabricated. The early 20th century saw the invention of plastics and this was used heavily because of its strong tensile strength, airtight nature and resistance to elements. The primary purpose of packaging, which was to protect products, reached its height with the use of plastics as a packaging medium. The drawback of plastics, however is that they were too resistant to the elements that they never dissolved in landfills and at the alarming rate that it was used, it poses a major problem to our environment.

pbfy-food-packaging-bagsToday’s packaging is a marvel of modern science. Food packaging has taken some serious evolutions as far as guaranteeing the freshness, integrity and product quality is concerned. The packaging we use today has also taken an approach towards preserving the environment as a priority. Modern packaging for a variety of commodities are the expertise of PBFY Packaging and now that you’ve realized that the quality of the products you use are also dependent on where they come in, you might want to browse around and see how our packaging solutions can help you.

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