Legacy of Fielding and Chavannes
Bubble wrap. We take it for granted. Sure, we appreciate it when our shipment arrives intact, but beyond that, most of us don’t give it a second thought. We may be entertained by it for a while, as we pop bubble after bubble, rendering it next to useless. But, when I learned that January 28th is ‘Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day’, I started to think about the inventors of this versatile material. (WARNING: Some bubble wrap was harmed in the making of this painting and, for research purposes, the writing of this blog post.)
Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by engineer, Alfred Fielding, in collaboration with Marc Chavannes, a Swiss chemist. I was amazed by the story of the two men, who can now rightly be called the original wrap stars. Or, if that’s not your style, pop icons. Regardless of what you call them, they leave a grand legacy.
Originally, their intention was to find a niche in the trend-setting market for groovy 3-D wallpaper, to compete with the textured bamboo wallpaper that the ‘Beat Generation' was loving. Their first attempt involved melting two plastic shower curtains together, trapping air bubbles between the two layers. It was a failure as wallpaper.
Then they marketed it as a type of insulation for use in greenhouses, but that saw very limited success. It wasn’t until IBM developed Unit 1401, the first commercially available computer, that the functional usefulness as a wrapping material was realized. Shipping computers, with their delicate glass tubes and sensitive parts, required a way to keep everything safe throughout the delivery process.
Fielding and Chavannes founded a company in 1960, called Sealed Air Corporation, and took out many patents on their inventions, process, and equipment needed to trap air between plastic sheets. Their best decision was realized on July 28, 1964, when patent # 3,142,599 was taken out for what has widely become known as bubble wrap. They handed off the reins to business people to manage because they just wanted to focus on their passionate calling – inventing things.
They probably had no idea it would grow into the multinational corporation it’s become. Bubble wrap revolutionized the mail and shipping industry. The product range broadened to encompass the transportation and safety of food and medical supplies. With bubble wrap, products are preserved longer and cost less to ship, making them accessible to more people. Not only does it protect valuable goods, bubble wrap enables a safer and less wasteful food and medical supply chain around the globe.
As of November 21, 2018, Sealed Air Corporation employs over 15,000 people and supplies 122 countries, making in excess of 4.4 Billion dollars (USD). They are a globally conscious organization, concerned for the environment, sustainability, and global leadership in reducing waste. Their stated mission:
“Re-imagine the industries we serve and create a world that works better.”
Quite a legacy to leave, especially when you consider how far it’s come from 3D wallpaper!