How Was Cardboard Invented?

March 6, 2013

Cardboard is common place in everyday life.  Department stores are filled to the rafters with cardboard boxes housing new items, every family who has ever moved has a couple hundred boxes made from cardboard stashed in the basement, and cardboard has become the fundamental backbone of the packaging and shipping industry.

But how did it come about?  What are the historical roots to the modern marvel commonly called cardboard?

Cardboard is basically a type of heavy or durable paper.  By this simple definition, one could argue that one of the first known forms of paper, papyrus, was likewise the first real example of cardboard.

Papyrus could be made to be stiff and ridged, though typically it was pliable and flexible.  So the first durable paper that most would claim as the grandfather of modern cardboard was invented in China in the fifteenth century.

Unlike other forms of paper or parchment, the ridged paper from the orient during the fifteenth century could be used to safely house items.  The use of this durable and lightweight paper continued sporadically throughout most of the world until cardboard boxes were first produced in mass in England in 1817.

Still, however, they were not the folding cardboard boxes that we think of today.  Rather, these first models of cardboard boxes were simple boxes with fixed walls.

The cardboard box that we recognize today was created by accident in the 1870’s by an American printer named Robert Gair.  Mr. Gair was making paper bags in his shop when he accidentally cut a paper box where it was only meant to be creased.

This fortunate mistake led Gari to the discovery that by cutting the cardboard boxes in specific places the entire box could be flattened and reopened at will.  Form the inventions that lead to the cardboard material and the accident that created the foldable cardboard box has sprung the cardboard that we know and enjoy today.

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