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The Accidental Invention of Bubble Wrap: A Story of Innovation

The Accidental Invention of Bubble Wrap: A Story of Innovation

Two inventors transformed a failed product into an irresistible poppable one that revolutionized shipping.

Howard Fielding, then a young boy, carefully held his father's strange invention. He had no idea his next act would turn him into a trend-setter. He held a sheet of plastic with air bubbles on it. He couldn't resist popping the bubbles as he fingered this funny-feeling movie.

Fielding was 5 at the time and he became the first person to pop Bubble Wrap for fun. Bubble Wrap revolutionized shipping and enabled the ecommerce age, as it protected billions of items shipped around the world each year.

Fielding recalls, "I was tempted to squeeze the bubble wrap as soon as I saw it." "I claim to be the first person who has ever popped Bubble Wrap but I know it isn't true. Adults at my father’s company probably did it for quality control. "But I was probably one of the first kids."

"They were fun to pop," he adds, with a laugh. They were much bigger back then and made a louder noise.

Fielding's father Alfred co-invented Bubble Wrap along with Marc Chavannes, his Swiss business partner. In 1957, they were trying to make a wallpaper that was textured to appeal to the growing Beat Generation. The two plastic shower curtains were put through the heat-sealing device, but they were initially disappointed by the results.

The inventors didn't completely dismiss their failure. The inventors were granted the first of several patents for the process and equipment for embossing materials and laminating them, and then began to think of other uses. In fact, they came up with more than 400. The only one that was successful, greenhouse insulation, was textured wallpaper. The product was tested in greenhouses but proved to be ineffective.

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