The who’s who of calendar demarcations, Chase’s Calendar of Events, has designated the last Monday of January, today, as Bubble Wrap® Appreciation Day. (And of course do not forget, bubble wrap is trademarked, so just try and name your band Bubble Wrap ... see where it lands you!) Since its invention in 1960, Bubble Wrap® brand cushioning material has been used by and has entertained kids of all ages, from two to one hundred and two!
According to legend, the birth of Bubble Wrap® took place in a garage in Hawthorne, NJ. Of course, isn’t stuff like this always invented in a garage and in Jersey? Two engineers, Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding, were trying to make plastic wallpaper with a paper backing, something, no doubt, that would compliment the popular trend of the day, popcorn ceilings. They failed miserably. But in a moment of pure unadulterated genius, with just a hint of desperation, they turned their attention towards a new direction: Packaging. Yes, the future was in plastic, plastic packaging. Their invention would be perfect for cushioning all sorts of products when shipping. At that time, only abrasive paper products were used for packaging, which were often insufficient for heavy or delicate items. They founded Sealed Air Corporation soon after, and today Sealed Air is a leading global manufacturer of a wide range of food and protective packaging materials and systems with annual revenues in excess of four billion dollars.
How is Bubble Wrap® packaging made? The process is a trade secret. But some details are available at the Bubble Wrap® website. “Bubble Wrap® cushioning starts as polyethylene (plastic) resin, in the form of beads about the size of small peas (just not as green). The beads go into an extruder -- a long cylinder with a screw inside that runs its entire length. As the screw is turned, heat builds up and the resin melts into a liquid that is squeezed out of the cylinder into two stacked sheets of clear plastic film. One layer of the film is wrapped around a drum with holes punched in it, and suction is applied, drawing one web of film into the holes that form the bubbles. The second layer of film is then laminated over the first so that when the two films are joined, they stick together and trap the air in the bubbles.”
And this all may sound easy, but polyethylene is a very porous, sponge-like material. Because air can easily leak out through the pores, which tends to limit the cushioning ability of the packaging, Sealed Air started using a Saran coating to seal the air in the bubbles. Eventually, a method -- the secret method -- of encapsulating an air retention barrier in the polyethylene during the extrusion process was developed.
So enjoy Bubble Wrap® Appreciation Day. I’ve been hearing popping all over the city today. Pop away citizens, pop away!