Bubble Wrap

An Accidental Invention

Bubble wrap is a pliable transparent plastic material used for packing fragile items. Regularly spaced, protruding air-filled hemispheres (bubbles) provide cushioning for fragile items. The product comes in different shapes, sizes, strengths, and thicknesses for expanded uses: big and little bubbles, wide and short sheets, and large and short rolls.

Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in Hawthorne, New Jersey. They were looking for textured wallpaper material in 1957 that would appeal to the burgeoning Beat generation[1]. Failing as wallpaper they decided it might make good greenhouse insulation but after testing it proved inadequate. They had a list of about 400 possible uses and one of them, packaging material won out.

Marc Chavannes was a visionary and Al Fielding was a first-class engineer. But neither wanted to run the company. They just wanted to work on their inventions.

CEO (1971) T.J. Dermot Dunphy

Fielding and Chavannes founded Sealed Air Corp. in 1960 and branded their produce “Bubble Wrap”. IBM had recently introduced the 1401 unit[2]—considered the Model-T of the computer industry—and needed a way of protecting the delicate device during transit. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was the answer to IBM’s problems. They could ship their computers without damage. That opened the door for a lot of other businesses to start using Bubble Wrap.

Chad Stephens, vice president of innovation and development for Sealed Air’s Product Care Division

Bubble wrap is most often formed from polyethylene (LDPE) film[3] with a shaped side bonded to a flat side to form air bubbles. Some types of bubble wraps have a lower permeation barrier film to allow longer useful life and resistance to loss of air in vacuums.

The bubbles can be as small as 0.24 inches in diameter, to as large as 1.0 inches or more, to provide added levels of shock absorption during transit. In addition to the degree of protection available from the size of the air bubbles in the plastic, the plastic material itself can offer some forms of protection for the object in question. Anti-static material dissipates static charge, thereby protecting the sensitive electronic chips from static which can damage them when shipping electronics.

What is the best thing about bubble wrap? Since bubble wrap makes a satisfying popping sound when compressed and ruptured, it is often used as a source of amusement. Psychologist Robert E. Thayer explains that when people are stressed or tense, they tend to take a moment to understand their plan of action. And during this course of action, they usually unknowingly finger tap, fidget with their legs or pop bubble wrap. This is also why people feel calmer after a session of bubble wrap popping.

Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

The last Monday of January was designated as Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day after a radio station in Bloomington, Indiana, received a shipment of microphones wrapped in bubble wrap and
broadcast the sound of their wrappings being popped.

I remember looking at the stuff and my instinct was to squeeze it. I say I’m the first person to pop Bubble Wrap, but I’m sure it’s not true. The adults at my father’s firm likely did so for quality assurance. But I was probably the first kid.

Howard Fielding – Alfred Fielding’s son

Today, Sealed Air is a Fortune 500 company with sales of $4.5 billion in 2017 and 15,000 employees serving customers in 122 countries. Originally located in New Jersey, the business moved its world headquarters to North Carolina in 2016.

  1. The Beat Generation was a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized by Silent Generationers in the 1950s. The central elements of Beat culture are the rejection of standard narrative values, making a spiritual quest, the exploration of American and Eastern religions, the rejection of economic materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration. [Back]
  2. The IBM 1401 is a variable-word length decimal computer that was announced by IBM on October 5, 1959. The first member of the highly successful IBM 1400 series, it was aimed at replacing unit record equipment for processing data stored on punched cards and at providing peripheral services for larger computers. 1401 is considered to be the Ford Model-T of the computer industry because it was mass-produced and because of its sales volume. Over 12,000 units were produced and many were leased or resold after they were replaced with newer technology. 1401 was withdrawn on February 8, 1971. [Back]
  3. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic made from the monomer ethylene. It was the first grade of polyethylene, produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) using a high-pressure process via free radical polymerization. Its manufacturer employs the same method today. The EPA estimates that 5.7% of LDPE (resin identification code 4) is recycled in the United States. Despite competition from more modern polymers, LDPE continues to be an important plastic grade. In 2013 the worldwide LDPE market reached a volume of about US$33 billion. [Back]


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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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