Happy 55th Birthday, Company that Makes Bubble Wrap!

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Museum workers in France use Bubble Wrap to protect priceless vases during shipment (Photo courtesy of Coyau via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1957, inventors Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes were sitting around their workshop in Hawthrone, New Jersey, when they came up with a really bad idea.

What if we took two shower curtains and sealed them together, trapping pockets of air bubbles inside? Wouldn’t that make an excellent … wallpaper?

The decorating idea didn’t catch on.

But little did the pair know then that their failed invention would one day become on of the most widely used packaging materials in the history of material handling: Bubble Wrap!

Celebrating 55 Years

This month marks the 55th anniversary of Sealed Air Corporation, the company Fielding and Chavannes founded in 1960 and the manufacturer of Bubble Wrap and other packaging products.

Despite their misguided beginning, the pair began searching for non-decorative uses for their new invention. At first, they came up with the idea of using it as an insulation material for greenhouses — it was transparent, it provided an air barrier that could absorb and hold heat, and it could be easily installed.

While that idea worked pretty well, their next idea was the one that would change the world: Use it as a packaging material.

A Big Name for Their First Customer

The first company to buy the inventors’ product and use it widely in their shipping and distribution network was an up and coming company called IBM. The computer maker first used Bubble Wrap to protect its 1401 computer during shipping.

Other companies began to see the benefits of using Bubble Wrap to protect their products, especially in the food and beverage industry. The packaging material really took off when meat packers realized they could use it to send less-than-full cases of products to their customers.

“From the start, Bubble Wrap was truly revolutionary, both as a product and a value proposition,” states a Sealed Air news release commemorating the company’s 55th anniversary. “Bubble Wrap was one of the first sustainable  packaging materials, allowing fragile goods to be shipped with smaller volume and reduced weight compared to earlier materials such as wadded paper. The packaging also excels in its ability to prevent product damage to fragile objects during transit, which is the most important aspect of its sustainability.”

Functional, Sustainable … and Fun!

Perhaps another reason for Bubble Wrap’s continued popularity 55 years after it was first introduced is its “fun quotient.”

Who doesn’t love to pop those little bubbles or make that satisfying crackling noise that occurs when you tightly twist a roll of Bubble Wrap?

There was even an annual Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors, which is sponsored by Sealed Air from 2006 to 2008. Children who were encouraged to come up with new uses for the material invented such products as a “Bubble Wrap Car Door Cover”, a “Bubble Wrap Wheelchair”, and a “Transformable Bubble Wrap Kite”.

Today, Bubble Wrap’s popularity is more widespread than ever. The packaging material has even made the leap to social media. There currently are more than 250 Facebook pages dedicated to Bubble Wrap.

Not a bad outcome for a genuinely bad idea.