Sunday, April 9, 2017

Boxes by E. Ayers

 Anyone who writes historically accurate fiction spends a lot of time researching stuff. Stories written in the romance genre tend to not always be correct…probably because a lot of people who read them read the books for the romance and don't care about the history. But there are those of us who like getting things accurate. As a result, we wind up researching stuff, and then probably after hours of research, we don't use but a line in our stories.
So when my hero in A Rancher'sWoman had some tools shipped to him, I started to think about that. He was quite resourceful, and a box made of wood would be re-purposed or taken apart and used in some other way. My brain toyed with that idea, and soon I was looking at boxes. The weight of certain things can be a bit much, but put the heavy object in a wooden box and it becomes extremely heavy! Weight was money when things had to be shipped.
 Guess what? There was a time that all boxes were wood, or wood frames covered with sheet
Replicas of Old Tins
metal, leather, linen, or some other material. But when it came to shipping, they were primarily wood. Eventually we had manufactured metal boxes, usually used for things that needed to be stored in the box.
My brain went to cardboard boxes. They existed in the 1800's; I knew they did. So when did all of it switch from wood to cardboard, and when did those corrugated cardboard boxes come about? I started researching, because for me, it's a big puzzle, and I like finding the pieces.
Several hours of research gave me these lines for the book.
Robert picked up one of the tools but poked at the paper box. "This is good. Less weight."
So what sort of box was it? Honestly, I don't know. It could have been shipped in a corrugated cardboard box. There was a slim possibility that a tool manufacturer would use such a box for shipping hand tools, but I suspect it was just a heavy cardboard box. Certainly not exciting. I truly believe if it had been a corrugated box, Mark (the hero) would have taken it apart to see exactly how it was made.
So was all my research for nothing? I don't think so. I enjoy learning about new things, or in this case old things. And all those tiny little things that we take for granted made a difference in the lives of people in the 1800's.
Cardboard boxes were invented in 1817. Someone in England made one and about the same time someone in Germany made one. Great minds think alike? When it comes to this stuff, it's a matter of who grabs the patent first. Credit goes to a company named M. Treverton & Son in England.
Pleated paper was invented in England in 1856 and used as liner in tall hats.
Albert Jones invented a shipping material using pleated paper that had been stuck to a single sheet of paper. It was used for wrapping glass lamp chimneys, bottles, etc. for shipping.
Pleated Paper
In 1874, a guy by the name of G. Smyth invented a machine to manufacture this pleaded paper that was glued to a single sheet of paper. Then, in that same year, Oliver Long improved on Jones design by putting the pleated paper between two sheets of flat paper, which is today's corrugated cardboard. But the first corrugated, manufactured, shipping box happened in 1895. That would be within the timeframe for my hero in A Rancher's Woman to possibly receive a corrugated box that contained a new chisel. But corrugated cardboard boxes really didn't gain a good foothold until the early 1900's.
As is often the case, things happen by accident, and that's what happened to Robert Gair in the 1870's when he was supposed to be cutting and then creasing seed bags. The ruler he or one of his employees was using somehow slipped, and he accidentally cut and creased at the same time. Unfortunately he didn't realize his ruler slipped until the cutting machine ruined a bunch of bags by scoring and creasing them around his ruler. But it didn't take Gair long to figure out how to create a machine to do the scoring and creasing at the same time - this time in the proper place! Thus the precut, ready to be folded, manufactured box was invented.
And who were the biggest users of Gair's pre-cut, foldable, cardboard boxes in the 1800's? Companies who sold small products such as Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), Lorillard (tobacco manufacturer), Ponds (cosmetics), Colgate (toothpaste), and Kellogg (cereal). But Gair's biggest client was National Biscuit Company, known today as Nabisco. In 1896, Gair received a contract for a two-million unit order of cardboard boxes that were lined with waxed paper for the biscuit company's crackers.

So the puzzle is solved with a few patents, and we have a great timeline of cardboard boxes
and corrugated boxes. No! No such luck. Seems the cardboard was used for packaging in the first and second centuries BC in China. Cardboard had been a heavier substitute for paper when printing for several centuries in Europe. And using cardboard for shipping is believed to have been around prior to the 17th century in Europe as things were being sent from China wrapped in cardboard, apparently the cardboard just wasn't in the shape of a manufactured box.
So as we flatten and toss all those boxes into the recycle bin, we are handling a little piece of history. History that made life a little simpler, cleaner, stackable, lighter in weight, and readily identified as the boxes were easily printed.


  1. Yes, E, it's true that authors of historicals find themselves confronted with all kinds of questions on "stuff and things" we now take for granted like those boxes. But unlike when I first started writing and had to make a trip to the library's reference department, we can now find out more than we ever need to know by the click of one finger on google! Talk about life made a little simpler!

    1. So true! But sources can also be wrong, which is why we check multiple sites and their sources. I love when I can go straight to the company or search things such as the patent offices. But go to the library and they often will point to the computer! But a few librarians are fabulous on the computer when it comes to references.

      A friend is writing a non-fiction book and winds up searching boxes at various historical societies. There is so much information that has not yet been digitized. And some of what has been done is difficult to search.

      But exploring those rabbit holes of history can be so much fun!

    2. Too much fun! I sometimes have to force myself to get back to the business of writing my book! LOL

    3. Oh but the interesting stuff we learn doing it.

      Yes, must get back to my writing.

  2. As an author, I spend a lot of time on Google--and even as a regular female, I do, too.
    The cardboard box..we never throw one away until it's been used and reused enough to justify recycling...we recycle everything thing possible.
    And The Cardboard Box was inducted into THE TOY HALL OF FAME MUSEUM, as was THE STICK, a few years back. How many babies have used boxes to play in? I imagine maybe every baby in America--vouch for foreign countries.
    Thanks..I learned from this good post.

    1. I almost added that tidbit about the toy museum. And a box from a major appliance could become almost anything!

      I'm so glad they brought recycling to our city. It's done on trash day. All recycle materials go into a special bin. Still too many thing must go to the trash. Several plastics cannot be recycled in our area.

  3. Such fun information. I appreciate what you said about even if the research is just one line in a story, the time wasn't wasted -- we learned something doing the research :-) So many things that we take for granted were innovative at one time. Finding out about them helps me appreciate them all the more.


    1. Thank you for reading, Nancy. It never really goes to waste because we remember and usually have to look it up again. (I can never remember dates!) But the appreciation we gain from these excursions into the past is worth every minute we spend. And it really does make our writing better.

  4. I loved this. Who would have thought cardboard boxes would have such an interesting and impressive beginning. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh, I agree. Who would have thought that "pleated paper" the center of corrugated cardboard came form the fashion industry and men's top hats? When Gair started cutting cardboard boxes by machine... That means someone stood there, hand cut, and folded them. And probably glued them together prior to Gair's machine. Can you imagine folding paper into tiny pleats all day? Innovation changes jobs! But it also changed things for our heroes and heroines.

  5. When it comes to cardboard boxes I am a particular fan of shoe boxes. They are just the right size for a myriad of uses.
    This was a very well written piece, E..
    I want to wish you great success with A Rancher's Woman. I see you have put a great deal of thought and research into it.
    All good things to your corner...

    1. Thank you, Sarah.
      If they ever make shoe boxes see-thru I will be in heaven! :-)

  6. Enjoyed your post, E. It's amazing what has been around for a long time in history, items we believed invented much later. Love the picture of your tin boxes. I have some of those too.

    1. Not my tins, but still adorable. Over the years, what I had slowly went away. But manufacturers figured out they could sell wares in pretty tins. They kept things dry and vermin free. Anyone who has ever had a mouse in the kitchen knows the destruction and chaos the tiny creature creates!

  7. Information like this is fascinating, Elizabeth. I may mess up occasionally, but I strive to be 100% accurate in details--as I know you do. Isn't Google a wonderful tool? Imagine having to trudge to the library each time we needed such information. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'd probably have to live in the library! I look so much stuff up and not just things. It's even harder to research attitudes. The information is there but taking the time to locate it means wandering down a lot of paths before the truth can be found.

      I love being part of this group because I know how much everyone here strives for accuracy. There's a lot more to it than just how high the bustle was in Paris at the time.


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