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The History of Bubble Wrap
Image credit: Julia Bujalski

Accidental Invention

Did you know that Bubble Wrap was invented by accident? In 1957, Alfred Fielding and his business partner Marc Chavannes were attempting to create a textured wallpaper that they hoped would appeal to the Beat generation. One of their attempts involved running two pieces of plastic shower curtain through a heat-sealing machine. At first, they were disappointed with the results – their experiment yielded a plain plastic sheet with air bubbles trapped in between.

Shipping the IBM 1401

However, Fielding and Chavannes didn’t give up – they patented their process and started thinking of different uses for their accidental discovery. They tried marketing it as greenhouse insulation but found it to be unsuitable during testing. In 1960, they created Sealed Air Corp. and began calling their product Bubble Wrap, but it wasn’t until three years later that it really took off. When IBM introduced the 1401 unit, the Model T of the computer world, they needed a way to protect the delicate computer during shipping. Fielding and Chavannes realized that Bubble Wrap could meet IBM’s needs and demonstrated their product for the team. IBM was so thrilled with its protective features that they began using Bubble Wrap to ship all of their 1401 units.

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Providing A Better Way

Shortly after that, small businesses began to embrace Bubble Wrap, too. Before Bubble Wrap, the only real way to protect items during shipping was to surround them with balled-up newspaper. The newspaper ink was messy and often rubbed off on the products being shipped. It also routinely got on the hands and clothing of the people doing the packing. Worse, the balls of newspaper offered little in the way of protection from damage during shipping. In contrast, Bubble Wrap was clean, easy to use, and highly protective.

Expanding the Line

As Bubble wrap caught on with consumers, Sealed Air Corp. began to produce it in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. They introduced large and small bubbles. They offered wide and narrow sheets. They even manufactured both long and short rolls to meet all shipping needs. But despite the growth of Sealed Air Corp., it still wasn’t turning a profit. That’s when T.J. Dermont Dunphy became the CEO. He helped increase Sealed Air Corp.’s sales from $5 million in 1971 to $3 billion in 2000. As part of his efforts, he expanded into the swimming pool industry. At one time, Bubble Wrap pool covers were very popular! The large air pockets in the pool covers helped trap solar rays and retain heat, which kept pool water pleasantly warm.

A Shipping Revolution

Today, Sealed Air Corp. has expanded into a Fortune 500 company with over 15,000 employees, and Bubble Wrap is considered an essential product. In fact, the introduction of Bubble Wrap changed the world forever. This accidental invention revolutionized the shipping industry and made it possible to reliably protect goods during transit. Without Bubble Wrap, today’s thriving e-commerce era would not be possible. It is also, as every child knows, extremely fun to pop!

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