Packaging is an ancient practice. Humans have been improvising containers for holding and transporting things for millennia, from baked clay vases to tanned leather satchels to sawed and nailed wooden crates.
But it wasn’t until the 1800s that corrugated boxes as we know them came about. Lightweight and disposable, they were first used in France in the 1840s to transport the delicate Bombyx mori moth to silk manufacturers–likely because it kept moths alive better than less breathable boxes. Around this time, several entrepreneurs began pushing the boundaries of paper. A top hat manufacturer realized he could pleat paper for the inner lining of his hats in 1856 and patented the process. “Corrugating” paper in such a way built up the bulk, tensile strength, and shock absorption of paper.
By 1890 we had the corrugated box as we know it. And as a result, 20th-century shipping became about paper, not wood, as it had been previously. Go to any big retail store, and you’ll see countless dyed paper and plastic packages on the shelves. But laying behind them, in the stock room? The corrugated boxes that shipped them there. And nowadays, thanks to Amazon Prime and the rise of fast shipping, these brown boxes are piling up on our doorsteps.