Records have come and gone, VHS tapes are all but extinct, but cardboard has been around longer and shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, as more demonstrations of its strength and longevity are witnessed, the more we, as a people, fall in love with this paper that boasts the rigidity of the mighty oak. A ubiquitous presence, it is a rare moment indeed when someone pauses to ponder the origins of cardboard; after all, it’s everywhere. But the term ‘cardboard’ is very generic. Most of those who specialize in cardboard products carefully use more descriptive and specific terms, such as paperboard and corrugated cardboard.
Cardboard: Its History and Evolution
It is believed that cardboard was first invented in China in the 15th century, though the first commercial cardboard box was presented in England in 1817. This pleated paper was used for packing goods, and even as liners for tall hats. Pleated paper is the wavy stuff between the smooth front and back sheets on the cardboard we know today. It wasn’t until 1871 when Albert Jones of New York, New York would create the single-faced corrugated cardboard. Then, G. Smyth would improve upon that design in 1874 by adding another face, making the durable paper we use currently. Corrugated board has its two flat sheets (also known as liners or faces) covering the wavy paper made of short fibers. The waves in the paper perform a function, and resist being compacted when pressure is applied.
All paper products start out as wood first and the type of wood used makes a big difference in how the paper performs. Cardboard made from soft woods, like pine, have longer fiber pulp, which results in puncture resistance, are not very malleable, and so keep their shape, and are strong in tension. Cardboard made from hardwood (oak, elm) has shorter fibers, which ends up weak in tension and tears easily, but has good compression strength, and is easily moldable using heat and moisture. This makes for great furniture. The face sheets and the interior fluted sheet are then glued together using starch adhesives derived from wheat, corn, or potato.
Sounds sustainable, doesn’t it? It is fully biodegradable in 2- 3 months, depending on the climate conditions. Cardboard is very environmentally friendly, works well with recycled papers, and if you’ve never seen cardboard furniture, you’re in for a treat when you do. The paper can be made wood-thick, highly durable, and painted to your hearts’ desire. Extremely malleable, it can be twisted and turned into eye-catching designs that you would never believe was really cardboard in disguise. Cardboard can appear simple and unsophisticated, as well as trendy and stylish, that you would swear were bought off a showroom floor.
Cardboard and Its Myriad Uses
Not just furniture can be made of cardboard; so too can real working houses. In 2004, Australian architect Peter Ryan built an almost entirely-cardboard home in Southern Melbourne, Victoria, that was easily able to withstand the extremes of weather in the region, ranging from baking hot to pouring rains. This kind of innovative approach offers some astounding future applications, especially considering the need for emergency housing and disaster relief.
Have you ever noticed that about 10 minutes after a young child gets a big new toy, it’s abandoned for the delight of playing in the box, instead? It has become something of a joke, but it’s very true; kids love the free-reign of imagination a plain cardboard box offers them. They can get fancy too, and with the help of an adult, a child can turn boxes into forts, castles, pirate ships- anything they desire. So common a toy is the plain cardboard box, one was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005, one of only a handful of non-brand specific toys.
The Future of Cardboard
Cardboard is wonderful, and has a very bright future ahead of it. It’s already done a fine job of outlasting the 8-track player. Cardboard is here to stay and this is hardly a bad thing. As the zeitgeist leans more and more towards being green and people cozy up to eco-friendly comforts, cardboard will be given its much deserved dues.