Cardboard cores, cardboard tubes, cardboard box – short (hi)stories

The history of cardboard cores and cardboard tubes as a form of packaging is closely linked to the development of paper manufacturing since cardboard or paperboard, can be regarded simply as a form of thick paper. According to tradition, the first paper was first made in 105 AD by Ts’ai Lun a servant of the Chinese emperor Ho Ti.  The earliest record describes how he “made paper by pulling fishing nets and rags. Later, he used the fibres of plants which were boiled and made into a mash. They were  then stirred into a pulp and spread on a frame. When it had formed a thin tissue, it was pressed with heavy weights to make paper”.

By the early 1600’s, the Chinese had begun to use thick paper as a packaging material and so cardboard was born. Paper and cardboard manufacture slowly spread west to the middle east and reached Italy around 1255 while the first English paper mill was working by 1495, with the first paper factory in Kent up and running by the reign of Elizabeth l.

At that time paper and cardboard were made from rags. Increasing demand for paper and paperboard during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries led to shortages of rags. Other materials were tried including sawdust and even cabbage stumps!  However, it wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that pulp produced using straw or wood became the norm in the production of paper. This was largely due to the invention in Germany in 1843 of a wood-grinding machine which produced ground wood pulp suitable for papermaking.

Mystery surrounds the origin of the first cardboard box. Although it’s often reported that this form of cardboard packaging was invented in 1817 by the British industrialist Malcolm Thornhill, this has been questioned by historians who claim that Thornhill never actually existed and that the “fact” is actually a deliberate internet hoax!

The French claim to have invented the cardboard box. They even have a cardboard box museum at Valreas in southeast France to prove it! However these were very small, hand-made cartons used to carry silkworms and although they date back to the 1840’s, it’s not likely they were well known or copied outside of the local area.  More reliable accounts say that the first cardboard boxes were produced for packaging in 1890 using folded paperboard.  The inventor responsible was the Scottish-born American Robert Gair who invented the pre-cut cardboard or paperboard box. His breakthrough was to use flat pieces manufactured in bulk that folded into a box.

The popularity of cardboard grew rapidly and cardboard cores quickly followed giving people the ability to wind a wide range of products and fabrics around a cardboard core. Cardboard tubes and cardboard cores can be used as the basis of a storage system for everything from carpets to paper. Cardboard tubes can also be used to protect documents sent via the post and so the postal tube came to be born.

By 1903 E Revell & Sons were established at Bermondsey in South London making cardboard tubes and cardboard cores and three years later came the breakthrough that catapulted cardboard packaging into the public consciousness. It was in 1906 that the American Kellogg brothers were first to use mass produced cardboard boxes for their new-fangled Cornflakes. They covered the cardboard box with a waxed, heat sealed bag of Waxtite. This outer wrapper was printed with the brand name and advertising copy.

Today, of course, the plastic liner protects cereals and other products inside the cardboard box. Cardboard packaging never looked back and our UK cardboard packaging industry is estimated to be worth £4bn a year that employs 27,000 people.  Cardboard packaging is renewable, clean and extremely versatile. Its uses are limited only by our imagination.


The other history

Cardboard tubes are cylindrical pieces of thick fiber-based materials which, while having many modern applications, were originally used as a whacking implement. The history of the cardboard tube dates back to the lesser-known cardboard age that directly preceded the Iron Age, in roughly the 14th century BC. During this time, cardboard smiths found that wrapping cardboard in the form of a tube resulted in the creation of a highly effective swatting weapon. Becoming common in the era of classical antiquity, cardboard tubes were the weapon of choice for infantry in the Parthian and Sassanid Empires in Iran and were a common gladiatorial weapon among the Romans.

By the Middle Ages, the tube had faded into obscurity, replaced by the Viking cardboard battle ax, which had gained popularity as a fierce weapon. Cardboard tubes saw a strong resurgence in the 4th century due to the weapon’s superior effectiveness against the laminated linen armor favored at the time. The return of the cardboard tube gave rise in the 5th century to the lesser-known Cardboard Tube Knights of the Round Table, who mysteriously disappeared during a Saxon invasion in the early 6th century AD. Soon after this time historical records show widespread use of the tube across Asia with advanced martial systems recorded in Feudal Japan and in a number Chinese military engagements.

By the 17th century, a lighter dueling tube had found its place among civilian populations in Europe and had become an “essential” fashion accessory. During this time, tube dueling was often used as a way to settle matters of honor among the wealthy elite. With the rise of industrialized society during the modern age, advances in cardboard technology gave rise to lighter and stronger tubes, but also saw a decline in their use as a bludgeoning tool. Over the past century, the martial art of the cardboard tube has been maintained by children, who in the great wisdom of their youthful innocence have preserved its greater intricacies.

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