Intended to be an edgy version of wallpaper, Bubble Wrap was invented in the late 1950’s by Al Fielding, an engineer and Marc Chavannes, a Swiss inventor. Textured wallpaper was all the rage at the time. Alas, the public didn’t take to the idea of living in rooms with padded walls.
The inventors knew they had a fantastic product, they just had to find a good use for it. Frederick Bowers, the marketing expert at their manufacturing plant, Sealed Air, heard IBM was planning to ship their latest computer models to customers. At the time all that was available to cushion delicate shipments was newspaper, sawdust and horsehair. He offered Sealed Air’s bubble wrap and the rest is history.
Sealed Air’s factory is in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. The company also makes other products, such as Cryovac, the plastic that shrinks with heat around produce. The machines at the factory use resin heated to 560 degrees to manufacture the bubbled sheets, making the air in the factory very hot. If you get heat rash when the thermometer goes above 75 degrees, don’t bother applying for a job!
Bubble Wrap is used by artists to do paintings and by chocolatiers to produce a lacy imprint. You can order Bubble Wrap with bubbles shaped like letters or hearts. There’s a Bubble Wrap calendar, where you get to pop a bubble each day. I’ll buy one when the calendar provides a whole sheet to pop each day. There is a Facebook group under the name of “Popping Bubble Wrap” who claim over 460,000 members.
In 2011 Rhett Allain postulated 39 layers of bubble wrap would prevent injury when jumping from a sixth-floor window. No one has tested his hypothesis. What gave him the idea? Probably a pumpkin dropping contest a decade earlier in Iowa, where an 815-pound pumpkin was dropped from a 35-foot crane. The even organizers padded the giant’s landing site with Bubble Wrap; no word on how much was used. “Gourdzilla” landed completely intact.
Bubble Wrap appears in several popular movies. Even when you don’t see it, it’s there. Movieland’s school-attending children have their backpacks stuffed with Bubble Wrap so they don’t have to lug around heavy books as they act. If you enjoy reading about all the crazy uses of Bubble Wrap, buy The Bubble Wrap Book, written by Jim and Tim Berg, the guys famous for writing a book about the many uses of Duct Tape.
Bubble Wrap is most famous for is the good feeling people have when they pop the bubbles. In 1992 psychology professor, Kathleen Dillon did a study where she found subjects were more relaxed and less tired after a popping session. In 2012 a Bubble Wrap brand “Pop” poll survey found that one minute of bubble-popping provided the stress relief equivalent of a 33-minute massage.
I think the inventors of Bubble Wrap knew this. The New York Times reported that each Sealed Air employee received a small box of individual squares of Bubble Wrap to keep at their desk for emergency stress relief.
In 2015 Sealed Air began manufacturing iBubble Wrap, which has deflated bubbles. It’s said to be as effective as the inflated type for shipping. When Elon Musk heard about iBubble Wrap, he claimed to fear non-popping Bubble Wrap was a ‘sign of the apocalypse’.
I think I agree with Elon Musk.