Cardboard being processed

Where Does Cardboard Come From?

There are so many things in this world that are so prevalent in our societies that we forget just how fascinating their origins can be. Cardboard is not exempt from this, many of us order a few packages per month from Amazon and don’t think twice before ripping up the packaging and throwing it away. 

People tend to forget that it is quite incredible that we use this material in abundance for the transportation of goods. Beyond this you can find it in many places in your house, cardboard tubes can easily be found within the toilet and kitchen roll among other places. We thought we would show some love to this under-appreciated material and explain how it came into existence.

A brief history of cardboard

There is a bit of a conflict when it comes to finding the original source of cardboard. It has been sometimes credited to M. Treverton and Son who supposedly created the first paperboard box in 1817.

However, some people believe it actually originated in Germany as that was the first place where it was widely manufactured. Some even believe that it originated in Sweden as that is where the process for using the wood pulp to make into paperboard is said to have come from.

The most important credit for cardboard boxes most likely originated from the Kellog Brothers, who created the well-known cereal brand ‘Kellog’s’. It was in 1847 when they used cardboard boxes to contain their flaked corn cereal and it was they who popularized it before it became manufactured worldwide for containment purposes.

Corrugated cardboard/fibreboard is a stronger form of cardboard and is what we typically see used for packaging in modern times. It differs from regular paperboard because it has 3 layers of paper, including an outside liner, an inside liner and fluting which runs between these two liners. The fluting is that strange ruffled shape we see when looking at a sheet of cardboard from the side.

The widespread use of cardboard boxes globally didn’t happen until the early 20th century, where traditional wooden boxes were replaced with corrugated paper shipping cartons.

Stacks of cardboard flat packs in a warehouse

Where does the name ‘Cardboard’ come from?

The word cardboard doesn’t exactly have an astonishing story behind it because it is a pretty simple term that references a board of card, maybe ‘Woodboard’ didn’t sound too good?

Interestingly, despite the word ‘cardboard’ being used so commonly, this is, in fact, a generic term for different types of sturdy paper-based products. The more appropriate term is paperboard, with corrugated fibreboard being another stronger variant of this.

How cardboard is made

The process for creating paperboards is by no means simple, but it can be summed up pretty well. Essentially, materials needed for its creation are taken from either wood from trees or recycled materials. 

Pulping is required to extract these materials from their original sources and then the pulping machines make this into pulp board. The two main methods of pulping to extract these materials are Chemical Pulping and Thermomechanical Pulping. 

Chemical Pulping involves uses certain chemicals in order to break down the wood into pulp. This tends to provide less pulp board for bleaching but does result in greater strength and durability.

Thermomechanical Pulping is actually a two-stage process for making pulp which has the opposite effect of chemical pulping, it has worse strength but greater yield.

At this point, the pulp is ready for bleaching, which is the chemical processing of wood pulp which eventually creates paperboard. There are 3 main methods for bleaching pulp, these are reduction, oxidation and delignification. 

Reduction involves the gain in electrons or decrease in oxidation state, while Oxidation involves the loss of electrons or increase in oxidation state. Delignification is the removal of lignin from the woody tissue.

Once they are bleached, you can create one or more boards, known as single-ply or multi-ply. Sometimes, this is then coated to improve it’s appearance, using a pigment and an adhesive.

Cardboard box packing machine

So there you have it, a brief history of cardboard that you never knew you needed. This is just one small example of how if you examine some of the ‘normal’ things in our lives, you can find so much genius and scientific success that was once not possible. 

We encourage everyone to learn their history about any undervalued things that are part of our daily lives, you may come out of it feeling appreciative of the effort that was required to create them.

2 thoughts on “Where Does Cardboard Come From?”

  1. Thanks for pointing out that corrugated boxes are what we typically use for packaging in modern times. As you said, they are a stronger form of cardboard. My mother is planning to have items shipped to my sister and relatives in a different state. She is looking for the perfect boxes that would not get damaged while in transit, so I will ask her to find a corrugated shipping boxes supplier.

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