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An ode to the box


Boxes are perhaps the last thing you would ever think to think about on an average day. The corrugated cardboard box is one of the great inventions of the late 19th century, and it continues to be useful today. Don’t believe me? Think of all the places you see boxes: in the back of grocery stores, in the back of clothing stores, in the back of just about every store imaginable. Boxes are used in offices, in factories, and in just about every garage in the world. Boxes are the go-to way to move items in and out of almost every home on the planet.

The corrugated cardboard box is used to ship just about every product out there. It’s used by corporations, by NGOs, and by governments. The box, essentially, is the primary way we ship…everything. What would the world be like without it?

The world managed to get as far as 1890 without the cardboard box. It was then that Robert Gair accidentally stumbled upon them. Until then, from 1817 onward, people had been shipping with paperboard boxes, which even by the sound of them, seem flimsy and far less useful than cardboard. By 1895, corrugated cardboard boxes were being made, and the rest is history.

Yes, that’s right. The cardboard box has a start date. It didn’t come around with the wheel and the invention of fire. Like many things such as sliced bread, most people don’t think that something like a box had an inventor. To most people, the box is so prevalent in their lives, they just assume it was always there.

The box hasn’t actually changed much since then. There have been other inventions, however, that have made it even more useful. Styrofoam allowed for greater protection to items inside. Various forms of tape and glues helped bind the box together better. There have been inventions that help track boxes like barcodes. But through it all, the invention of the late 19th century has remained just about the same.

It’s such an under-appreciated object, and yet it is so very useful to us. Think of all the ways you can pack boxes, all the things you can store in them, all the uses for them (who didn’t enjoy a box fort as a kid?).

On top of it all, boxes are pretty easy on the environment. They are made mostly from recyclable materials, and they are at the same time themselves recyclable.

All that use and they hardly have an environmental footprint. How many other objects can you say that about?

So, let’s all take a moment to praise the box, an invention so crucial to our lives, we assume it simply always existed, an object that is lightweight, easily produced, and ubiquitous in our lives. Thank you box, where would we be without you?