Packaging History – A Detailed Evolution of Packaging Process

The history of Packaging dates back to 350 BCE. During the ancient times, packaging solutions were very rudimentary.

Over the years, packaging processes have evolved with the adoption of better materials and machines. In this guide, we will look at some fundamental milestones in the packaging industry.

Let’s dive right in.

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Ancient History of Packaging Products before 1900s

As a matter of fact, packaging is a process that has evolved over the years. With each innovation aiming to improve the packaging techniques.

Let’s look at some important milestones:

Ancient Food Packaging
Ancient Food Packaging

About 350 BCE

Wooden caskets and barrels made by celts around 350 BCE were perfected by Romans.

1500 BCE – 500 CE

Amphorae or large clay vessels were highly beneficial in moving wine, oil, and others. They came designed with pointed bottoms. Additionally, this made it easier for them to be stacked. These vessels were sealed mostly with resin or wax.

Ancient Egypt (circa 3000 BCE)

Woven baskets, animal skins, and clay jars were used by the Egyptians for transporting and storing.

Clay Pots & Amphorae (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece & Rome)

Mesopotamia (circa 3500 BCE) – This represents one of the first packaging forms. Clay pots during this timeline was used in storing liquids and grains.

Animal Bladders and Skins

Animal skins and bladders were used by early agrarian communities and nomadic tribes, for perishables and liquids.

Glass Bottles (Circa 1st Century CE)

During the 1st century, the Roman Empire began to use glass bottles.

Leather and Cloth Fabrics

Cloth sacks and leather pouches were common where storing and moving dry goods like herbs, grains, etc. are concerned.

14th to 18th Century

It marked an important milestone in the packaging history. Some notable developments included:

  • Papers and parchments – During the 12th century Europe had their feel of these packaging methods.
  • Wooden boxes and crates – These were used to ship and protect products, especially valuable items.
  • Glass bottles and jars – The 17th century was a time when the production of glass was famous. This is what led to the making and use of glass jars and bottles. In the 19th century these took over.

1800s to 1990s

Among the key developments in the history of packaging process include:

  • Peter Durand introduced food preservation in tin-plated iron cans in 1810.
  • Cardboard was introduced in the late 1800s for packaging.
  • The initial commercial paperboard box was developed in England in 1817.
  • It was in the 1850s that corrugated paper was developed.
  • Corrugated cardboard was developed in the year 1871.
  • Alexander Parkes in 1862 introduced plastic. This was plastic made by man. Yes, it wasn’t used immediately, till the early 2000s till date.

Developments in Packaging before WW2

Packaging During Word War 2
Packaging During Word War 2

Before WW2, quite a number of developments took place which helped a lot during the war.

Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century

  • Corrugated cardboards were introduced by 1871 and developed for commercial use in 1890.
  • In 1896, cartons and paperboard were introduced for snack packaging.
  • Tin cans were introduced in the early 1900s. By the late 1900s and the early 2000s, automatic machines enhanced effectiveness and hygiene.
  • Glass bottles were patented for use in 1884 with commercial production in 1903.
  • Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite in 1907. It was the first synthetic plastic.
  • Cellophane were introduced by Jacques E. Brandenberger a Swiss chemist in the year 1908.
  • In the 1920s, metal tubes developed from aluminium or tin were invented.
  • Other plastics like polystyrene and polyethylene were invented packaging in the 1930s.
  • Vacuum packaging methods were introduced in the 1930s.

Glass Packaging History Dating from Egyptian Time

Ancient Egypt (circa 1500 BCE)

  • Egyptians created glass first.

Although they were used for ornamental reasons, things have changed.

  • Ancient Mesopotamia & Mediterranean (circa 1500 BCE – 500 BCE)

The knowledge of making glasses moved to Mesopotamia and this increased their use. Traders in Phoenicia spread the different methods all over the Mediterranean.

1st to 20th Century

  • Roman Empire (circa 1st century BCE to 4th century CE)

Glassblowing was invented in Syria or Palestine (Eastern Mediterranean). This was around the 1st century BCE. Romans produced glass containers in mass for use daily.

5th to 15th Century

  • During these centuries, Murano Island was famous for making glass, especially during the 10th century. They used unique methods to make glassware.

15th to 18th Century

  • Lead glass was developed by George Ravenscroft in the late 17th century.

19th Century

Automatic bottle production was developed by Michael J. Owens. This helped with mass production.

  • Glass jars with seals or Mason jars (made in 1858) gained fame.
  • In 1884, milk bottles were patented to enhance milk hygiene and distribution.
Antient Glass Packaging by the Egyptians
Ancien Glass Packaging by the Egyptians


Developments in Plastic Packaging Material

Early 20th Century

  • In 1907 Bakelite was introduced by Leo Baekeland. It was the first synthetic plastic.
  • In 1920s cellophane became visible for use commercial use.

Mid-20th Century

  • In the 1930s, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene were introduced and commercially used.
  • In 1933, polyethylene was introduced. This discovery was an accident from scientists Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett in England.
  • In 1941, polyethylene terephthalate or PET was invented by James Tennant Dickson and John Rex Whinfield. They were British chemists. PET gained much fame in 1970.
  • In 1953 high density polyethylene or HDPE was invented by Erhard Holzkamp and Karl Ziegler.

Late 20th Century to Early 21st Century

  • From 1960s to 1970s, flexible packaging like wraps, plastic films, and pouches were used more.
  • From the 1970s to the 1980s, barrier plastics like ethylene vinyl alcohol or EVOH was introduced as a plastic packaging barrier.

Presently, plastic packaging materials keep transforming with newer initiatives and technologies being introduced.

Pouch Packaging
Pouch Packaging

History of Packaging in Metal Containers

Ancient Time

  • Metals such as silver, gold, and bronze were famous in decorations and ceremonies. Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks used them more.

19th Century

  • The technique of keeping food in closed glass jars invented by Nicholas Appert in 1809 was applied to tin cans.
  • In 1810, Peter Durand patented tin plated iron can use to preserve food. This gave birth to the use of tin cans and this extended to the Late 1900s.

Early 20th Century

  • Sanitary cans were introduced in 1904. It came with more safety than soldered cans.
  • Beverage cans also got introduced I’m 1935. They were made with steel and a unique opener.
  • In 1927, aerosol packaging through aerosol cans were developed by Erik Rotheim.

Mid to Late 20th Century

  • In the 1950s, aluminum cans were introduced. They came with unique features.
  • In the 1960s, beverage cans were made highly convenient with the introduction of pull-tabs.
  • Stay-tabs became common worldwide in the 1970s. The eco-friendly benefits of these types made them famous.
  • During these times, chemical coating advancements for these packages were very clear.

21st Century

  • Craft beverage cans
  • Recyclable metal cans
  • Lightweight types
  • BFA-free linings within packaging
Can Packaging
Can Packaging

Insights into Paper Packaging Development

Within the 2nd century BCE, CaiLun invented paper. During this time, they were made from hemp, mulberry, and others. However, paper packaging didn’t start commercially until the 15th to 18th Century. Some more info online:

15th to 19th Century

  • By the 17th century or 1700s, the use of simple paper bags as well as wraps where outdoor education.
  • In 1803, the Fourdrinier machine invented made it possible for paper to be made easier thus, paper packages increasing.
  • In 1817 in England, the very first paperboard box for packaging was produced.
  • In 1856, corrugated packaging with corrugated paper was introduced by Edward Healey and Edward Allen.
  • The year 1852 saw the use of grocery bags when Francis Wolle introduced the first paper bag making machine.
  • In 1870, Margaret E. Knight developed a machine that could make flat-bottom paper bags.
  • Corrugated cardboard boxes were introduced in 1871 and 1890. In 1871 single-sided types was patented by Albert Jones while the pre-cut type invented by Robert Gair.

Early 20th Century

  • In the 1900s, folding cartons were used more for different material packaging.
  • Paperboard were also used to package food.

Mid to Late 20th Century

  • More packages and their unique features kept changing.
  • Biodegradable materials was really big during this time

Currently or 21st Century

  • Paper bags are designed to come with countless uniqueness.
  • There are different uses of different paper bags or packaging.
  • Unique hybrid packaging features.

Close looks at Frozen Food Packaging History

From 1900s to 1925s

  • Clarence Birdseye invented in the 1920s the quick-freezing method. This kept the taste, nutritional values, and texture of food intact. So, it made it possible for frozen food to be made commercial.
  • In 1920s, heavy paper wrappers and wax-coated cardboard cartons were used to protect food from losing moisture and freezer burns.

1930s to 1940s

  • Birdseye setup a Seafood company where frozen food was packaged with wax paper and Cartons.
  • During World War II, frozen foods were in high demand because of rationing. Packaging was enhanced to meet these needs and to keep food longer.

1950s to 1960s

  • In the 1950s, polyethylene film was introduced as a more efficient barrier against air and moisture. This gained fame for wrapping frozen foods.
  • Swanson in 1953 introduced TV dinner packaging in aluminum trays.

1970s to 1980s

  • Within these years, multi-layer plastic films were introduced.
  • Microwave oven packages were also introduced to ensure foods could be heated directly in packages.
  • In the 1970s, environmental movements led to eco-friendly package materials being used.

1990s to 2000s

  • Introduction of vacuum sealed packages
  • Portion control packages were introduced

2010s till date

  • Eco-friendly packaging materials are used now.
  • Smart packaging features are made the most of.

Box and Bags Packaging History

Ancient times

  • Ancient China during circa 200 BCE made use of papers first. They used them to wrap delicate products such as tea.
  • During the 11th century, making and use of paper through silk road moved to the Middle East and Europe. They were used for dry goods packaging.

1800s to 1880s

  • In 1817, commercial paperboard boxes were initially introduced in England ideally for luxury items.
  • In 1856 corrugated papers was patented with the following of cardboard boxes in the year 1871. This led to a revolution in the packaging and shipping industries.
  • Square bottom bag designs were enhanced with flat bottom bags by Margaret E. Knight in the year 1870.

1970s to 1990s

  • Recycling and environmental considerations led to the introduction of recyclable packaging materials in the 1970s. This is what made paperboard and paper famous til now.
  • In the early 1990s, folding cartons and printed paperboard cartons were introduced and gained much fame.
  • In the late 1990s waxed paper bags and wraps, as well as multiwali paper bags were introduced for packaging.

2000s till date

Some current innovations include:

  • Hybrid packages which is a mixture of paper and other materials have been introduced.
  • Barrier coatings help to keep bags safe from moisture and grease.
  • Smart packages integrates digital features such as QR codes or barcodes.
  • Unique and enhanced designs that are light, elegant, and portable.

Evolution of Blister and Clamshell Packaging

Box Packaging
Box Packaging

Earlier Developments

Blister packaging was introduced during the 1930s to 1950s

  1. It came about in the mid 20th centuries. This was due to the need for small consumer goods, hardware, and pharmaceuticals to be well and safely packaged.
  2. Materials used during these times was the PVC and paperboard.

Advancements in Technology from the 1960s to the 1970s

  1. Thermoforming was introduced during this time as well as heat sealing.
  2. These technologies enhanced the safety of products packed.

Gained Fame within the 1980s to the 1990s

  1. For the pharmaceutical industries, the use of blister packs became very common. This was mainly for unit-dose packages since they protected medications with tamper proof features.
  2. For packaging consumer products, the fame was also during this time. They were used to package toys, sma electrical equipment, electronics, and others.

In these industries above, blister packaging provided some level of safety, visibility, and security.

Innovation in Materials

  1. During the 1980s to 1990s, barrier films were introduced alongside with blister packaging as an ideal material for blister packs. These films were chosen because they provided enhanced safety of delicate items from oxygen and moisture.
  2. During the early 1990s, awareness was brought to recyclable materials to meet environmental safety needs.
Blister Packaging
Blister Packaging

Clamshell Packaging Emergence and Advancement

Clamshell packaging was introduced during the 1970s to 1980s. That was basically the same time when thermoforming for blister packaging was introduced. Note the following about clamshell packaging:

  • During their early years between the 1970s and 1990s, they were used mainly in packaging tools, electronics, and items tagged as highly valuable.

Clamshell packaging technological advancement from the 1990s till date

  • Unique sealing methods like ultrasonic and RF welding wad introduced. These advances have helped in enhancing product security and tamper-evidence features.
  • Clamshell packages over the years since the 1990s have had some changes like easy to open features, blister and clamshell combining, and more.
Clamshell Packaging
Clamshell Packaging

Integrating Printing in Packaging Industry

There has been a major evolution where integrating printing in packaging industry is concerned. Below are the details:

Earlier developments

Basic methods of Printing within the 19th Century

  1. During this time, flexography and lithography was used. These techniques added simple details and branding to all packaged materials.
  2. Printed wrappers and labels were very common as well. These allowed brands to introduce themselves to consumers and made product information possible too.

Advancements during the Mid-20th Century (1950s to 1970s)

  1. Offset prints were introduced which was of high quality and reasonable pricing.
  2. Gravure prints gained much fame as well during this time due to its ability to provide more packages with fine image quality and consistency. This print type was ideal for flexible materials such as foils and plastic films.
  • Digital printing emerges in 1990s
  1. In the 1990s the emergence of digital printing transformed the packaging industry. This made it easier for short runs, quick prints, and unique customization to be done.

Current Advancements

  1. Higher quality flexography
  2. Laser and Inkjet prints
  3. Integration of graphic designs
  4. Functional prints such as barcodes, QR codes, etc.
  5. Eco-friendly print inks
  6. Biodegradable print materials

Evolution of Packaging Machines

The evolution of packaging materials is directly connected to the packaging history in the world. Packaging machines are not the same today as they were before. Below is what you must know:

From the Late 18th to the Early 19th Centuries

During these times, an industrial revolution took place. This is when the use of manual and semi-automatic packaging machines set in. Hand-opeated fill and seal machines were introduced to simplify work load

From the Mid to the Late 19th Century

More mechanical advancement took place during this time.

  1. Can Sealing packaging machines were introduced by Peter Durand and other inventors in the early 1800s.
  2. Robert Gair and other inventors in the 1970s invented corrugated cardboard machines that aided in mass cardboard box production.

Early to the Mid-20th Century

  • Electrical motors were introduced into packaging machines in the early 20th century. This helped to enhance production speed of machines.
  • The introduction of fully automated packaging machines came in by mid 20th centuries. This when massive changes began with more features like filling, labeling, sealing, etc.

Late 20th Century till Date

Since the late 20th century till date, there has been massive enhancements.

  • Control systems with high level of computerization, advanced robotics, unique integrations into packaging machines, and more are very common now.
  • Machines are designed to be able to handle all types of materials.
  • Smart packaging features are also used now to produce features to keep packaging safer.

Looking into the Future of Packaging Industry

Currently, so much has changed. However, it is clear that the past hasn’t been strayed from totally. The future of the packaging industry is linked to the history of packaging products. Below is a detailed view of what can be expected:

  • Shift towards materials that are more environmentally friendly, safe, and sustainable.
  • Enhanced smart features can also be expected. Looking into the future, packaging will include unique enhancements such as sensors, time tracking tags, product freshness checkers, traceability features, and more.
  • Looking into the future, packaging brands will depend more on digital prints and customization systems.
  • Active AI involvement in packaging machine production is highly possible.
  • Designs and functionalities will also change greatly looking into the future. Packaging that will extend shelf life, enhance product freshness, be light, be flexible, and enhance safety of products will be seen more.


As you can see, packaging has a long history. From the rudimentary packaging solution to modern packaging material equipment, they has been notable improvement over the years.

At JOCHAMP, we help you get highly efficient, reliable and cost-effective packaging machines – contact us now.

Related Resources:

Clamshell vs. Blister Packaging – Source: JOCHAMP

Bottle Packaging – Source: JOCHAMP


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