All Wrapped Up: The Incredible (and Edible) History of Paper

Published in Gourmet Live 09.21.11
It’s customary to give paper for a first anniversary, so Gourmet Live’s Kendra Vizcaino was inspired to examine the role paper has played in food history

1st–2nd century B.C.: The practice of packaging edibles in “paper” begins in China when sheets of treated mulberry bark are used to wrap foods.

3000 B.C.: Egyptians invent papyrus, an early form of paper, from the eponymous plant and also use wood barrels, boxes, and crates to store food.

A.D. 105: Ts’ai Lun of China develops the technology to create what we now call paper by employing mulberry bark, rags, and old fishing nets.

1852: Pennsylvanian botanist Francis Wolle invents and patents a machine that makes paper bags.

Early 1900s: The “oyster pail” is created to hold fresh-shucked oysters. Over time, the containers become ubiquitous for transporting Chinese takeout.

1904: The first paper plates are created, after Martin Keyes came up with the idea of using wood pulp while watching his fellow Maine mill workers eat off maple veneer chips.

1907: Lawrence Luellen, a Boston lawyer, develops the “Health Kup” to reduce the spread of germs from communal drinking sources. These were later named Dixie Cups, after a line of popular dolls.

1915: Ohio toy manufacturer John Van Wormer drops a glass bottle of milk and designs and patents folded disposable paper milk cartons.

Late 1930s: Keyes’ company comes out with paper egg trays, produce packaging, and the Chinet brand of plates.

1952: Ruben Rausing and his team create a plastic-coated, airtight cardboard carton called the Tetra Classic, which can store perishable liquids at room temperature for up to a year.

Late 1950s: The KFC paper bucket is invented by Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, who was a KFC franchisee; his container draws excess oil and moisture away from the chicken, keeping it crispy.

1960s: The square cardboard pizza box is invented (some say by Domino’s), based on a 19th-century design from Naples, Italy, that used metal.

1963: The famous blue “We Are Happy to Serve You” cup is born when the Sherri Cup Company produces a to-go coffee cup to appeal to Greek coffee vendors.

1965: Thomas Angove, an Australian winemaker, develops the process for packaging boxed wine.

1974: The company owned by Jon Meade Huntsman, Sr., the father of the current presidential hopeful, creates the “clamshell”-style container for the McDonald’s Big Mac.

1993: Jay Sorensen invents the coffee sleeve to help consumers carry extra-hot cups.

2005: Chef Homaru Cantu of Moto restaurant, in Chicago, invents edible menus made of cornstarch, soybeans, and seaweed; images are created using food-based inks.

2011: Chef Ferran Adrià serves “flower paper” on the final night of service at his celebrated restaurant El Bulli. The flower paper is made from spun sugar pressed with delicate edible flowers.

Subscribe to Gourmet