Corrugated Boxes: A Brief History and Modern Commercial Uses

How a Collar Transformed the Shipping Industry

Anyone alive today might think that corrugated boxes had existed forever, and if you consider the middle of the 19th century ancient, you’d be almost right. Although corrugated paper dates back to 1871, the inspiration stemmed from 16th-century England and its fancy Elizabethan collars.

Devices known as fluting irons assisted these oddities of costume history in getting and keeping their wavy shapes, and that gave two 19th-century Englishmen a bright idea. Could the same device, on a smaller scale, do the same to a piece of paper?

As it happened, the answer was yes, and the inventors, Healey and Allen, patented their fluted product in 1856.

Improvements were swift in coming. In 1871, American Albert L. Jones glued the fluted paper to a single lining to produce a cushioning wrap. Oliver Long increased its strength in 1874 by adding a second liner.

Now, there was something of substance, and all it took was a mistake by paper bag manufacturer Robert Gair to turn this sturdy board into the world’s first corrugated box. The year was 1890, and it was just the beginning. Today, the world’s goods routinely ship in cardboard boxes from manufacturers around the globe.


What Makes Corrugated Boxes So Strong?

Since they’re made of only paper and paste, how can cardboard boxes possibly be that sturdy? The thanks for that must go to the science of the I-beam and the truss.

When you look at corrugated cardboard from the side, you’ll notice that it’s more or less hollow. The only thing holding its two sides together is the piece of fluted paper creating a row of columns between the liner sheets, and therein lies its strength.

Mimicking the behavior of construction I-beams, these columns impart some serious muscle in the lengthwise direction while the truss-like nature of the board itself lends it some crosswise heft.


How Strong Is Corrugated Cardboard?

Some may not realize it, but not all corrugated cardboard is created equal. What’s sufficient to hold a perfume bottle could never transport a refrigerator. To cover all the bases, manufacturers provide this material in different strengths.

Available varieties include:
– Single-face. Used most often to package the lightest-weight items or cushion products inside a box, this original 1871 invention still has its uses today.
– Single-wall. Normally identified by a letter designation, this most common of styles varies only in the thickness of its flutes, with type A the heaviest, C the most-frequently encountered and E the thinnest and weakest.
– Double-wall. Consisting of two fluted sheets and three liners, this type serves best for industrial purposes. It also comes in various strengths, with A/C the thickest, B/C the standard and B/E the thinnest of the breed.
– Triple-wall. These sturdiest of all corrugated boxes often possesses sufficient heft to take the place of wooden crates.

Any overview of the various types of corrugated box is at the same time an oversimplification. Considering the more than 100 different types of paper that can serve in its production, the potential varieties of corrugated cardboard can number in the thousands. That’s not bad for something inspired by an offbeat piece of clothing. Order various types of corrugated boxes here.

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