Packaging Innovation
The history of packaging materials
November 23, 2015

The history of packaging materials: leaves, polyethylene and everything in between

Historians agree that early humans started using packaging to transport, store and protect food and trinkets when they were nomadic hunters and gatherers. The history of packaging is, in other words, as old as the history of humankind. As humans developed and technology advanced, so did packaging. A short overview of the various stages of packaging techniques and the emergence of the packaging industry:

Packaging materials used by hunters and gatherers

The history of packaging materials Historians haven’t yet agreed on which materials the first packaging was made from, but they do agree that it is likely to be one, or a combination of the following:
  • leaves combined with vines
  • nuts
  • gourds
  • animal skin
  • animal organs
  • hollowed out pieces of wood

Packaging materials used in domesticated villages

The history of packaging materials With the introduction of villages came an increased need for storage and transportation items that would serve large groups of people. Here’s what early settlers used to meet that need:
  • woven sacks and baskets
  • wooden boxes and crates
  • pots and containers made out of clay
  • animal skin

When Rome fell…

The history of packaging materials The establishment of cities brought about interregional trade and more sophisticated packaging materials that helped improve trade as well as the overall quality of life. This signified the birth of blown glass and wooden barrels. Unfortunately, packaging innovations came to a hold within Europe when Rome fell. At this point in time, Europe became reliant on the technological advancements of other cultures. Paper packaging, for instance, was introduced by the Chinese.

Packaging during the industrial revolution

The history of packaging materials The industrial revolution blew new life into the packaging industry. The demand for large packaging decreased while the demand for smaller, individual packaging increased as many rural citizens moved to the cities. Additionally, production levels increased thanks to the introduction of machines. As a result, packaging methods became more durable and efficient.

Modern packaging materials

The history of packaging materials People living in the early 1900s witnessed the introduction of plastics to the packaging industry, which would dominate the flexible packaging sector for years to come. More than half a century later, in the 1960s, polyethylene became a preferred packaging material. The packaging industry has continued to advance ever since, but perhaps most notable is the rising demand and supply of recyclable packaging materials. Learn more about sustainable packaging Inspired by U.S. Packaging & Wrapping