Nomination of Alfred W. Fielding to National Inventors Hall of Fame
An invention that flopped as a wallpaper 60 years ago popped into public awareness soon after as the material IBM chose to protect its delicate super computers. It changed packing and shipping forever, and today its role in pop culture as a toy, stress reliever and even modern art is also 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.
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.
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.