Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Packaging Innovation

The work and imagination of thousands of talented people has driven forward the evolution of packaging design and innovation. Together, these small inventions and discoveries have made a major contribution to improving the way goods are packaged, enabling higher quality, more durable products and greater convenience for the consumer.

ChromolithographyMuseum of Brands

Chromolithography, a method of colour printing, was a turning point in the history of packaging.

Before its invention, the laborious process of colouring had been done by hand, mainly by children, so most product packaging used to be printed in a single colour, usually black on white.

The German, Alois Senefelder, discovered the monochromatic method of lithography in 1798.

This process of printing was introduced in Britain in 1801 and its popularity grew during the early nineteenth century.

However, the major breakthrough came when a Franco-German, Godefroy Engelmann, patented chromolithography in 1837.

It arrived in Britain from the 1840s onwards. The method is known as the printmaking process that brought colour to the masses.

Manufacturers could now more easily print directly onto materials like tin and paper in vibrant colour, making their products more visually appealing to consumers.

Airtight TinsMuseum of Brands

Tin boxes were introduced around the mid-nineteenth century to store biscuits, mustard and tobacco.

Around the middle of the century, advances were being made in the development of airtight tins.

They were mostly used to keep products fresh, a feature which was particularly useful for export.

Perhaps the most ingenious discovery was made by G.H. Williams...

...His tin was cylindrical, opened by revolving the lid, which had an in-built cutter designed to pierce the airtight inner foil.

The British tobacco firm, Wills, had exclusive rights to this invention, which they started to use from 1887.

Tin CansMuseum of Brands

The Frenchman, Nicholas Appert, discovered a way of cooking food in a glass jar sealed with a stopper in 1809. A vacuum preserved the contents until the jar was opened.

But the fragile and heavy glass containers presented challenges for transportation.

Glass jars were largely replaced in commercial canneries with the cheaper, more sturdy cylindrical tin or wrought-iron canisters (later shortened to ‘cans’).

British merchant Peter Durand is credited with receiving the first patent for the idea of preserving food in tin cans in 1810.

Canning revolutionised food production - enabling more products to be available all year round. It was also cheaper and allowed a healthier and more varied diet.

Canned food remains popular today. In the UK, more than five billion canned food products are consumed each year.

The British Navy and polar explorers were some of the first to use these new cans.

Surprisingly, can openers were not invented for another thirty years.

Paper BagsMuseum of Brands

Paper bags were used for containing dried goods like grains, flour and sugar.

The material was easy for manufacturers to print onto so they could advertise their product.

Flat-bottomed carrier bags could be used to transport items home from grocer’s shops.

CellophaneMuseum of Brands

In 1869, the Swiss inventor Jacques Brandenberger discovered the formula for making thin transparent sheets from regenerated cellulose derived from wood, cotton, hemp and other natural resources.

The transparent film could be wrapped around any pack to seal it – making it more hygienic and keeping the contents inside fresher.

By the 1920s, transparent sheets were being used in the confectionery industry to wrap boiled sweets individually as well as a variety of cartons and boxes such as cigarette packets.

Bread WrappersMuseum of Brands

The invention of sliced bread in 1928 ensured the need for specific packaging to keep bread fresh for as long as possible.

Moisture-proof waxed wrappers provided the best solution before plastic wrappers were introduced.

Folding CartonsMuseum of Brands

The first folding cartons were developed in the mid nineteenth-century in America. By the close of the century, around 800 patents relating to folding boxes had been registered worldwide.

Tetra PakMuseum of Brands

In 1915, American John Van Wormer was granted the patent for the 'paper bottle', the first folded blank box for holding milk.

Folding CartonsMuseum of Brands

Robert Gair from New York developed a process for mass-producing paperboard boxes. America's National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) was the first large company to adopt them.

They began to be used extensively and were especially useful as packs for the growing soap and cigarette market.

By the 1930s, the use of paperboard cartons widened as containers for a variety of different products like breakfast cereals, ice cream and powdered products.

This protective yet inexpensive packaging allowed everyday items to be contained in a carton which acted as its own advertisement.

AerosolsMuseum of Brands

The first aerosol spray can patent was granted to the Norweigan Erik Rotheim in 1927.

It was not until the late 1940s that aerosols took off commercially for products such as insecticides, veterinary sprays and air fresheners.

Today, aerosols are used for over 200 different types of products including foams, mousses, gels and creams.

Their design has proved popular as they allow the product inside to be applied directly to a specific area.

Bottle TopsMuseum of Brands

Bottles traditionally used cork as a stopper until the first internal screw cap bottle closure was invented in 1872.

Screw top bottles changed the way wine, fizzy drinks, water and squash were stored.

In London, Hiram Codd's bottle stopper used a glass marble held tight inside the opening by the pressure of the effervescent drink.

Over in the US, Charles de Quillfeldt filed for a patent for the swing-top, designed for bottles of carbonated drinks, such as beer and mineral water.

The metal Crown Cork cap was patented in 1892. It had 24 ‘crimps’ and a cork seal with a paper backing to prevent contact between the contents and the metal cap.

Like the Codd bottle top, it required a bottle opener.

Ring Pull CansMuseum of Brands

It was in the 1930s that beer started to be packaged in tin cans.

Flat top cans arrived in Britain in 1950 but still needed to be opened with a special can opener.

In 1959, the American Ermal Fraze devised the can-opening method that would come to dominate the canned beverage market - the ring pull tab.

This invention had a huge impact on the popularity of cans with its ease of opening.

PlasticsMuseum of Brands

The first plastic material was patented by Alexander Parkes in 1856. Known as Parkesine, it was unveiled at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London.

The next breakthrough came in 1907 with the invention of Bakelite by Leo Baekeland.

By the 1950s flexible plastic packaging had arrived.

The moulded packs gave designers endless opportunities for creating shapes. And for consumers, the squeezable plastic bottle was a revolution.

It could be used for a wide range of products from talcum powders to the newly arrived washing up liquids.

During the 1960s and 70s, many products that had been packed in glass switched to plastic containers. Lighter and more resilient, they saved on transport costs and made shopping less heavy.

Tetra PakMuseum of Brands

In 1940s Sweden, experiments began to yield results for milk packaging that required a minimum of material but maximum hygiene.

Ruben Rausing constructed a tetrahedron-shaped package out of a tube of paper and the Tetra Pak Co. was born.

The carton was devised as a packaging solution for everyday foods, especially milk that was sold in heavy and costly bottles. It facilitated a longer shelf life for products.

Tetra Pak's resealable cartons transformed the way liquids were stored.

It is currently the largest food packaging company in the world by sales, operating in more than 170 countries.

Aluminium FoilMuseum of Brands

The first aluminium foil rolling plant, was opened in Emmishofen, Switzerland, in 1886. It was here that Dr. Lauber and J. G. Neher and his sons discovered the rolling process and the use of aluminium foil as a protective barrier in 1907.

Experiments continued and aluminium began to replace tin from around 1910 onwards.

In 1911, the Bern-based Tobler Company began wrapping its chocolate bars in aluminium foil, including the triangular chocolate bar, Toblerone.

By 1912 aluminium foil was being used by Maggi to pack soups. Oxo have used it for their cubes since the 1950s.

Since it is highly malleable, it can be easily converted to thin sheets and folded, rolled or packed.

Foil acts as a total barrier to light and oxygen, which cause fats to oxidise or become rancid, odours and flavours, moisture, and germs.

It is used widely in food and pharmaceutical packaging, including long-life packs for drinks and dairy goods, for storage without refrigeration.

Self-Adhesive LabelsMuseum of Brands

One day whilst experimenting, the inventor, Stanton Avery, discovered a method for making self-sticking labels. He built a label-cutting machine out of a washing machine motor, parts of a sewing machine and a saw.The self-sticking label used for price tags and name tags was born.

In 1935, Avery manufactured the world's first self-adhesive labels and made it into a successful business. He chose Kum-Kleen Products as his original company name to advertise the ability of a self-adhesive label to be removed without leaving a mark.

Pre-packaged Ready MealsMuseum of Brands

The concept of the ready meal grew from the frozen food products arriving during the 1950s. As ownership of fridges and freezers increased throughout the 1960s, so did the range and use of convenient meals that were ‘ready for the oven’.

The popular Vesta products often did not need to be frozen as they were made from sachets of dried ingredients.

Fridges and freezers provided more choice for food such as pre-packed pizza in the 1970s.

In America, the name ‘TV dinner’ came from the brand of packaged meal developed in 1953 by C.A. Swanson & Sons – its full name was ‘TV Brand Frozen Dinner’.

The ultimate convenience meal came in the 1980s with the introduction of the microwave oven.

Domestic freezers did not become the norm until the late 1960s. But also because people worked longer hours and convenience food became more desirable.

Metal TubesMuseum of Brands

The collapsible metal tube had been invented by American oil painter John Goffe Rand in 1841 as a way of transporting paints to use outside.

It was not until 1892 that the idea of putting toothpaste into tubes was made practical. Colgate experimented with tubes soon after and found them acceptable to the public.

The first toothpaste tubes that appeared in the 1890s were made entirely of metal. In the 1940s, due to metal shortages during World War II, they were constructed of a mix of plastic and metal. A hundred years after their invention, toothpaste tubes have become completely manufactured of plastic.

Credits: All media
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