It’s a stress reliever, it comes in rolls, it protects fragile items, and it’s name is a generic trademark used by Sealed Air Corporation. Any guesses as to what I’m talking about? It’s a solution for consumers and small businesses alike, and people love to spend an aimless hour or two popping it. It’s not only the most protective packing for your breakable items, but this stuff keeps kids occupied for hours. You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m talking about the ever-popular, ever-entertaining rock star of the packing material world, Bubble Wrap. You know you love to pop those bubbles. Admit it. But, do you know the history of this humble plastic wrapping material.
The History of Bubble Wrap (Textured Wallpaper???)
Bubble Wrap has been around for a while. In 1957 two engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes set out to create textured wallpaper. Textured wallpaper – let that sink in. They created this trend-setter wall covering by sealing together two shower curtains with air bubbles trapped inside. Can you imagine having your walls covered in bubble wrap? It would be great for your baby just learning to walk or for great-grandma who has balance issues. I see no other advantages. Can you imagine having to reprimand your kids for “popping the air out of the wallpaper?” You’d have to put them in the middle of the room for a timeout or your walls would look like used plastic wrap.
After discovering that this wall covering wasn’t as popular as they’d hoped (shocking!!), they had to change direction. For their next trick, they tried marketing this “textured wallpaper” as greenhouse insulation. Apparently, their marketing skills weren’t up to the task because that proved to be unpopular as well.
Three years later, Frederick W. Bowers, a marketer at Sealed Air, the company that makes Bubble Wrap, discovered the perfect use for this product. IBM had announced their new 1401 computer, and Bowers got the ingenious idea that Bubble Wrap could be used as a protective packing material during shipping. He pitched the idea to IBM, the demonstration was a success, and IBM began using Bubble Wrap to protect all of their fragile products during shipping. From modest beginnings, Bubble Wrap currently accounts for 10% of Sealed Air’s revenue, translating to around $400 million in annual sales.
A Modern-Day Marvel With One Small Problem
Today, Bubble Wrap takes on many forms and can be purchased almost anywhere that moving and office supplies are sold. You can always find it at your local self storage facility that carries moving and packing supplies. Mailers, pouches, and padded envelopes are examples of other popular uses for Bubble Wrap.
A downside for customers who are buying Bubble Wrap has been the space it takes up during shipping and storage. In the early 1990s a group of engineers began work on a product that could be shipped in thin, flat sheets of plastic without the bubbles. The method is to eject tiny pellets of polyethylene into sheets, which are then heated. These tiny pellets then flatten to form strong polymer sheets with rows of un-inflated bubbles that are connected in lines. Customers lease a special machine from Sealed Air which inflates all the lines of bubbles and seals the openings. This customer-inflated Bubble Wrap is 40 times cheaper to ship than the original.
Bubble Wrap is useful for so much more than merely packing. Wasting time has never been more productive.
Bubble Wrap Fun Facts
The amount of Bubble Wrap produced by Sealed Air annually is enough to wrap the entire Earth, at the equator, with Bubble Wrap about 10 times.
While originally used primarily for packing, most of the Bubble Wrap currently produced is used for food packaging.
In a demonstration done by Sealed Air, an 815 pound pumpkin dropped from a height of 35 feet onto layers of Bubble Wrap survived without a scratch.
The next time you watch a TV show in a school setting, know that the backpacks everyone is wearing are filled with Bubble Wrap so that they don’t have to lug heavy books.
To survive a six-story fall, you would need 39 layers of Bubble Wrap (don’t try this at home).
In 2015, Boy Scouts in Elbert, Colorado set a Guinness World Record for the most number of people popping Bubble Wrap simultaneously: 2,681 Scouts participated.
Bubble Wrap was a Toy Hall of Fame Finalist in 2016.
Sealed Air manufactures Bubble Wrap sheets with air cushions shaped like letters that spell out “happy holidays” and bubbles shaped like hearts or smiley faces.
Sealed Air licenses day calendars that allow consumers to punctuate dates by popping a giant bubble. Much more fun than marking off the days with a conventional calendar.
Teenage girls all over the world use it to stuff their bras.
If you’re very patient and adept with a syringe, you can make jello shots with Bubble Wrap.
For added dimension to an already great party game, place Bubble Wrap under Twister.
People love to pop Bubble Wrap because:
- It releases muscle tension
- It distracts you from your worries
- It makes an awesome noise
- It provides instant gratification
- It has a satisfying, calming tactile feeling
- You can throw it away when you’re done
Who would have thought a humble plastic packing material could be so versatile in addition to being so useful. I hope that this article provided you with a newfound respect and admiration for Bubble Wrap. Wrapping a package will never be the same.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to popping – it’s cheaper than a therapist.