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Bubble Wrap: A History of the Accidental Invention that Changed the Shipping Industry
A silver box with a plastic cover sitting on a marble table.

Next to cardboard boxes, Bubble Wrap is perhaps the most popular packaging material today. But did you know that Bubble Wrap wasn’t invented for packaging at all? In fact, it was made for something completely unrelated to the shipping industry. And once you learn the long history of Bubble Wrap, you’ll never look at it the same way again. Here’s a quick recap of Bubble Wrap’s odd story, from its humble beginnings in the mid-20th century to its current status one of the shipping industry’s most essential tools.

The Unlikeliest Start

Bubble Wrap was invented in 1957 by two engineers: Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes. But they didn’t invent it as a material for packaging or shipping. Instead, they invented Bubble Wrap as a…textured wallpaper. That’s right. What’s now one of the world’s most widely used packing materials started out as an alternative to traditional wallpaper. To make the original version of Bubble Wrap, Fielding and Chavannes used two shower curtains and sealed them together with air bubbles in between. According to Joey Green in his book “The Bubble Wrap Book”, the two inventors set out to develop a machine that created a type of plastic wallpaper with a paper backing. But their machine ended up just creating sheets of plastic with air bubbles in between. Unsurprisingly, their plastic wallpaper wasn’t a hit, and it didn’t sell well. But luckily, they didn’t stop there.

Giving It Another Try

After its failed introduction as wallpaper, Fielding and Chavannes set out to market Bubble Wrap as a material for greenhouse insulation. Although Bubble Wrap does have some insulating properties, it’s simply not as effective at insulating as other materials. That’s why it was no surprise that this idea also didn’t take off. Yet again, Bubble Wrap failed to ignite the market and get noticed by people.

Third Time’s the Charm

It wasn’t until almost three years since its invention that Bubble Wrap got its first big break. Frederick W. Bowers – a marketer for the company Sealed Air (Bubble Wrap’s producer) – came up with the idea of using Bubble Wrap as a packaging material. As the story goes, he got this idea when IBM announced the new 1401 computer in 1959 and realised how Bubble Wrap could protect these fragile machines during shipment.

(Photo: pixabay)

He pitched and demonstrated his idea to IBM, and soon IBM was using Bubble Wrap for their computers and accessories. And from there, Bubble Wrap really took off.

Bubble Wrap Today

Since then, Bubble Wrap continued to grow and a become a fundamental tool in the shipping industry. Today, Bubble Wrap is one of the most popular materials for packing and shipping goods, becoming as essential as cardboard boxes and Styrofoam. Bubble Wrap now comes in a variety of styles and designs, and it consistently earns Sealed Air (its manufacturer and trademark holder) hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Not bad for something that started out as wallpaper.

Need Bubble Wrap for Shipping or Packing Your Items?

We sell different types of Bubble Wrap that you can use to keep your items safe during shipping or transport. If you need special lengths or types of Bubble Wrap, contact us to find out what we can do for you.

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