The birth of Bubble Wrap

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Hear this episode as a podcast.

Nomination of Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes to National Inventors Hall of Fame

A8A0E00A-C2E6-4B80-A6AE-EF16EF16A16F_1_201_a
Alfred W. Fielding, left, and Marc A. Chavannes, inventors of Bubble Wrap and founders of Sealed Air Corp., circa 1970.

An invention that flopped as a wallpaper 60 years ago popped into public awareness soon afterward. When IBM chose the material to protect its delicate super computers, it changed packing and shipping forever. Today its role in pop culture as a toy, stress reliever and even modern art is celebrated every January on Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

In 1957, Marc A. Chavannes, a Swiss chemical engineer, approached mechanical engineer Alfred W. Fielding with the concept of creating an insulating, textured wallpaper by sealing two sheets of plastic together on a paper backing. Chavannes had been working on ways to emboss thermoplastic film as early as 1948, but that method resulted in a textured sheet without the air cushioning we know today.

Working out of a small garage across the street from the Fielding Machine Co. in Hawthorne, N.J., they started by trapping air between two shower curtains. The material was not practical as a wallpaper, but in creating it they had developed a method to vacuum-form a pattern of air bubbles between two sealed sheets of treated plastic using machines Fielding developed.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The next application they tried was greenhouse insulation, but that also was not a success. However, on a bumpy flight into Newark Airport one day, they hit upon the ultimate use for their product: protecting fragile items during shipping.

BubbleWrap

They were the first to envision what became an entirely new industry: protective packaging. Until then, products were shipped mostly in sawdust or discarded or shredded newspaper, paper wadding, and other dusty, abrasive and often inky paper products. Now they faced another challenge: persuading shippers to buy a stronger, cleaner packaging material instead of using essentially free recycled industrial waste.

Continue reading “The birth of Bubble Wrap”