The History of Packaging

Posted by Hedwin on April 18, 2017

Dating back to the earliest days of humanity, packaging has long played a critical role in our daily lives — from hunting and gathering societies to modern industrial times. 

The earliest human who found a large leaf to carry water away from a stream created the first rudimentary package and sparked an industry that still endures today, thousands of years later.

Variety of flower boxes and flowerpots in storage outside greenhouse early in spring.jpegFor centuries, people have used various materials to assist in the protection, storage, and transportation of a wide range of items. Clay, glass, and wood, for instance, have been used for packaging purposes for at least 5,000 years, while paper, cardboard, and paperboard became the go-to materials in the 1900s.

Discovered in the middle of the twentieth century and constantly improving, plastics gradually replaced paper products as the primary packaging material. Thanks to various new technological advancements and innovations, packaging materials of all types — particularly plastic — are now more versatile than ever. 

Below, we take a deeper look at some of these advancements in order to illustrate the technology’s growth and put our modern-day capabilities into perspective. Here is a brief history of the world of packaging.

Early Packaging

Hedwin 1.pngWhile there is no definitive record outlining when packaging was first invented, the general historical and scientific consensus is that people have been using packaging in one way or another since our earliest days on earth, when humans were strictly nomadic hunters and gatherers.

The packaging used during this time would have been formed from easily accessible, naturally occurring objects such as:

  • Leaves — Large leaves from various plants and trees were likely the first packaging containers, used to wrap food or other objects in order to protect them from the elements.
  • Animal skins — Animal skins were used in a variety of packaging-like applications, notably for transporting food or water.
  • Nuts and gourds — Large nuts and gourds were widely used to transport food and small goods.
  • Wood — In conjunction with leaves or animal skins, hollowed-out wood was used to store larger amounts of food for longer periods of time.

Evolving Trends in Packaging

As humans began to settle, establishing towns and eventually cities, packaging materials became more and more advanced. Glass has been used for packaging purposes as far back as 1200 B.C. Metal —  tin, in particular — was first used about 2,400 years later, in 1200 A.C.

By the 1830s, tin had become the primary packaging material, used for everything from cookies and chocolate to tobacco products. Not long after this, soft metal tubes began to be produced and used, first for artist paints and later for a range of different products.

Paper also played a role in this packaging evolution; waxed and other treated paper was used as food packaging during this time but only in small volumes, as paper was handmade until the invention of the paper mill in 1690. This development, combined with the invention of lithography in Germany in 1796, opened up the packaging industry to the use of paper in a number of applications, including use as labels.

Modern Packaging Innovations

Hedwin 2.pngThe most significant changes in packaging tend to occur during major cultural or economic transformations.

During the industrial revolution, particularly during its second wave in the late 1800s, common packaging materials were expensive; this led to the rise of dual-use packaging — packaging solutions that were specifically designed to be reused.

The next period of heavy packaging innovation came during and immediately after World War I, which saw the rise of products such as cardboard boxes, cellophane, metal cans, and molded glass. After the war, the Great Depression led to the rise of supermarket culture and, with it, drastic changes in distribution and consumption models; now, packaging was expected to be aesthetically appealing as well as reliably protective.

Sustainable Convenience

Beginning in the middle of the 20th century and building on the changes spurred by the Great Depression, consumer convenience quickly became the primary focus of packaging innovation.

The 1950s saw the invention of polyethylene, used for everything from food and milk containers to garbage bags and packaging film. The ’60s brought all-aluminum cans made from a single piece of metal, greatly reducing the weight of the soda containers. Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) was invented in 1977 and quickly adopted as a reliable, effective beverage packaging material.

Starting later in the 20th century, sustainability and environmental friendliness began to take precedence, as consumers became more mindful of the environmental impact of their purchasing habits while still valuing convenience.

History of packaging image 3.pngThis focus on sustainability has led to a huge innovation boom, continuing today, in the plastic packaging materials market; companies are now working to develop sustainable materials that minimize packaging waste and meet consumers’ environmental concerns.

Learn More

Hedwin, a Zacros America, Inc. company, has over 70 years’ experience developing and manufacturing innovative packaging products. Today, we are proud to market the one-of-a-kind CUBITAINER® flexible package. We proudly serve a wide range of industries, from biochemical and pharmaceutical to food and beverage.

To learn more about Hedwin’s innovative packaging solutions, contact the team today.

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Topics: Packaging Solutions, Company News