It’s undeniably satisfying and almost meditative: The pop of bubble wrap between our fingers and thumb. But did you know that the invention of bubble wrap — as with many great inventions throughout history — was an accident?
In 1957, engineer Alfred Fielding and his business partner, Swiss chemist Marc Chavannes, were trying to invent a textured wallpaper. They sealed two shower curtains together and initially were disappointed by the air bubbles trapped inside.
But the enterprising men soon started brainstorming other ways to use the material, scheming their way through 400 ideas. They named the product Bubble Wrap and continued to test ideas. Three years later, in 1960, they decided to use it as packaging material and founded the Sealed Air Corp.
Their decision coincided with IBM’s newest invention, a computer called the 1401 unit, which needed a safe way to be transported. Sealed Air Corp. landed its first major customer and soon, smaller companies followed. Until then, most packaging material consisted of balled-up newspaper, which could be messy.
Over the years, the line expanded to different-sized bubbles and sheets, plus other materials. A non-poppable pool cover even came along. The small business grew to become a Fortune 500 company with sales of $4.5 billion in 2017, according to Smithsonian Magazine.