Flexible Packaging, Shrink Sleeves, Film, and Plastics

Plastics were discovered in the 19th century and used primarily by the military. Since this time period in the history of packaging, a variety of plastics have been discovered and include the following: Styrene, Vinyl Chloride, Celluloid, Cellulose Acetate, Polyethylene Film Wraps, and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE).

Styrene was distilled from a balsam tree in 1831. Early products made of styrene were brittle and chartered easily. Germany improved the process in 1933 and by the 1950s Styrofoam was available to the world. In addition, this styrene was used for insulation and cushioning materials as well as foam boxes, cups, and meat trays.

Vinyl Chloride discovered in 1835. Vinyl Chloride was used for packaging, molded deodorant and squeeze bottles. In addition it was used for heat shrinkable films.

Where things come from

Celluloid was invented during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. Because of an ivory shortage, a United States manufacturer of billiard balls offered a $10,000 reward for an ivory substitute. A New York engineer named John Wesley Hyatt and his brother Isaiah Smith Hyatt created the new material.

Acetate was derived from wood pulp in 1900 and developed for photographic uses in 1909. DuPont manufactured cellophane in New York in 1924, but it was not commercially used for packaging until the late 1950s.

recyclable containers

Polyethylene was discovered in 1933. It is the most common plastic. Its primary use is in packaging plastic bags, plastic films, geomembranes, and containers.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) was patented in 1941. It is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used for containers and in combination with glass fiber for engineering resin.

Pressure Sensitive Labels

A label has a variety of uses but generally provides information about a product’s origin, use, shelf-life and disposal. Most labels are made of paper, polymer, cloth, or metal. There are nearly 750,000 registered trademarks in the United States. Labels contain a great deal of information intended to protect and instruct the public.


Corrugated Paper & Foldable Cartons

The Chinese were the first to use flexible packaging materials in the form of treated mulberry bark to wrap foods in the first or second century B.C. Additionally, the Chinese also developed techniques of paper making. Papermaking was introduced to England in 1310 and arrived in America in 1690.

Paper is a thin sheet of cellulose. Cellulose is a fibrous material that comes from plants. The process of extracting cellulose from wood pulp was developed in 1867. Paper bags were first manufacture in England in 1844. In 1852 the bag-making machine was invented in the United States.

In the 1870s glued paper sacks and the gusset design were invented and, produced the types of paper bags used today. As a result of the development of the glued paper sack, cotton flour sacks were replaced.

The first paperboard carton was produced in England in 1817. In 1850 corrugated paper appeared. This form of cardboard is made from thin sheets of paperboard that are molded into a wavy shape and a faced between two flat sheets of paperboard.

Foldable cartons were first developed in the 1870s. The development of cereal boxes advanced the use of paperboard cartons. The Kellogg brothers were first to use cereal cartons.


  1. Kenneth R. Berger, reviewed by B. Welt, University of Florida, A Brief History of Packaging
  2. Paula Hook and Joe E. Heimlich, Ohio State University Extesion Fact Sheet, Community Development, 700 Ackerman Road, Suite 235, Columbus, OH 43202-1578, A History of Packaging CDFS-133
  3. Walter Soroka, Fundamentals of Packaging Technology, Second Edition, 2000, published by the Institute of Packaging Professionals
  4. Packaging Manufactures Association, History of Packaging http://www.ambalaj.org.tr/en/environment-history-of-packaging.html
  5. ooducate Eat a bit better: http://blog.fooducate.com/2008/10/25/1862-2008-a-brief-history-of-food-and-nutrition-labeling/
  6. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Label