In 1957, engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes created a product from a barrier plastic that they thought would be used behind wallpaper to give it a third dimension.
By 1960, Sealed Air Corp. in Elmwood Park, N.J., was trapping air between two layers of Saran film in a building about the size of a two-car garage in Hawthorne, N.J. Bubble Wrap was born, created from a barrier film that doesn't allow air to pass through the membrane.
“[Fielding and Chavannes] realized it was a unique invention, but wasn't going to be used for its original intention,” said Rohn Schellenberger, Sealed Air's business manager for air cellular products.
The secret of the branded Bubble Wrap is in the pop of the plastic. Somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Sealed Air moved into coextrusion barrier technology.
“Bubble Wrap has a very crisp, distinct sound,” Schellenberger said in a July 16 telephone interview.
Besides using it as a stress reliever, millions of people have found quirky uses for it. Now, Web sites like www.bubblewrapfun.com give you ideas, if you're at a loss. Visitors to www.virtualbubble wrap.com can pop Bubble Wrap online.
“People have actually turned it into clothing apparel,” Schellenberger said. Others have popping races, where the skill of the pop is timed and judged.
Authors Joey Green and Tim Nyberg took on other oddball uses in their 1998 book, The Bubble Wrap Book, in which they made up as many wild uses as there were page numbers.
Although most of his work now is focused on duct tape, in a July 16 telephone interview Nyberg said other uses have included a burglar alarm, toilet seat cover, padding for shoes, even a motorcycle helmet.
For Sealed Air, Bubble Wrap has its own Appreciation Day, which the company started in 2001. This year, the company started a Bubble Wrap contest for young inventors. Grayson Rosenberger, an eighth-grader from Nashville, Tenn., won the contest for designing a cosmetic covering shell for the metal artificial leg of a young amputee from Ghana.
“It was surprising to see the creativeness of that group,” Schellenberger said. “We thoroughly enjoyed the contest and that's why we're going to continue on in the future.”