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The Evolution of Packaging

Packaging is both an art and science with multiple folds that make it quite sophisticated. It has various functions and uses that can be traced back to the prehistoric person. One can only imagine just how difficult life must have been for Neanderthals without packaging.


In prehistoric times, packaging was often for the protection and containment of food. Food security was paramount since hunting and gathering existed in place of processing and producing food. People had to carry food around and protect it from elements and animals, and packaging became necessary. Slaughter and animal and carry the meat in an animal skin pouch that could be eaten too. Eco-friendly, right?


Civilization meant a more sophisticated means of packaging. In the late Bronze Age, ancient Egyptians perfected the molding of glass into containers for various purposes. However, due to the prohibitive production costs, only the upper class could afford the containers.

Some centuries later, Romans and ancient Greeks used pottery and clay vessels to store water, and more notably, wine. The wine was really popular among the arrogant upper Roman class and was a dominant entertainment element. They used lead seals to complete the packaging of their goods, which was intended to protect them from the elements and tampering. It goes without saying that the lead didn’t do their health any favors.


From medieval times to the Age of Exploration, packaging was primarily made of wooden barrels and boxes. Rum, gunpowder, dried food, and freshwater in barrels would be ferried in ships across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans for the Spanish and British Empires. This mode of packaging had its shortcomings as food preservation was impossible. Sailors had to eat dried food, and their water was easily compromised by vermin, culminating in illnesses.


Napoleon called for the development of a method to preserve army food supplies. He insisted that his armies were supposed to enjoy good French food as they faced imminent death in battle. In 1805, Nicholas Appert came up with a method inspired by Napoleon that entailed preserving all forms of food in glass jars and sealing them with corks and wax. This packaging and preservation method worked in his favor until the Russian winter, and it didn’t matter anymore.


In 1810, the preservation of food using metal was invented, and by 1830 people were selling the first canned goods. The British Army and Navy were the largest buyers of canned food, probably wishing it had been invented earlier. Lead poisoning was still a risk. In fact, this is what happened to an Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845. Years later, in 1984, after the expedition’s disappearance, the well-preserved remains of a crew member were exhumed and examined, only to find that their poisoned food was responsible.


Paper has grown very popular over the years in packaging circles. In 1890, the first folding carton was conceptualized accidentally. A metal rule used for creasing bags cut a bag by accident, and Robert Gair, a printer, thought that cartons could be cut this way and turned into prefabricated boxes.


Plastics were invented in the early 20th century, and their robust tensile strength, resistance to elements, and airtight nature made them quite popular. People found the great for protecting products. However, they were too resistant to the elements and never dissolved in landfills. Due to wide use, plastics still pose a major issue to the environment.


Packaging has thus far taken significant strides, evolving into methods that assure product freshness, integrity, and quality. Packaging has also evolved dramatically toward the preservation of the environment. Printing technology has evolved along with packaging so that you have many options in branding the packaging your company offers its customers. It would be best to weigh your options in custom printed packaging before choosing what way to go with your product packaging.



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