25 Surprising Facts About Bubble Wrap

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iStock.com/kutaytanir

Outside of cats making their home in empty shipping boxes, no packaging tool has brought more joy to consumers than Bubble Wrap, which has been protecting fragile goods—and relieving stress—with its air-filled chambers since 1960. In honor of Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (which takes place annually on January 29), we’re taking a look at 25 things you might not know about this shipping institution.

1. It was originally supposed to be wallpaper.

Bubble Wrap on a ceiling with blue lighting.
Mr. Michael Phams, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Wallpaper may have lost some of its social cachet, but in the 1950s, gluing patterned rolls to your living room was a decorating win. In 1957, an engineer named Al Fielding and a Swiss inventor named Marc Chavannes wanted to bring a wallpaper to market with a raised texture. As an experiment, they glued two shower curtains together, sealing them so tightly that air bubbles were created. But few consumers wanted to cocoon themselves in a padded room, and the wrap-as-wallpaper idea never took off.

2. It was used as greenhouse insulation.

Boxes of plants near a wall of Bubble Wrap.
iStock

Their wallpaper dreams dashed, Fielding and Chavannes decided to take their glued-curtain idea and transfer it to greenhouses, where the material could be used to insulate buildings and retain heat. This worked, but it was still hard to convince buyers to enclose their environment in plastic. For a time, it seemed like Bubble Wrap would remain a good idea without much of a purpose.

3. IBM changed everything.

Vintage IBM 1401 computers from the Computer History Museum.
Sandy Kemsley, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By 1959, Fielding and Chavannes had incorporated Sealed Air, a business umbrella for marketing their Bubble Wrap product. Their marketing expert, Frederick W. Bowers, learned that IBM was preparing to ship their 1401 decimal computer to buyers. Realizing the item was both expensive and fragile, Bowers pitched the company on the idea of shipping them wrapped in Sealed Air’s trademark product. (Previously, shippers used newspaper, sawdust, or horse hair to protect delicate items.) Impressed, IBM soon began using Bubble Wrap to protect delicate electronics from damage during transit. By the mid-1960s, Bubble Wrap had become a shipping institution.

4. "Bubble wrap" is trademarked.

Close-up of Bubble Wrap
iStock

Like Xerox, Kleenex, Coke, and other brand names that became so ubiquitous that they began to slip into day-to-day vocabularies, Bubble Wrap is actually a trademarked product of Sealed Air. No competing air-cushioning company can use the term.

5. It comes in handy on film sets.

Three women wearing backpacks.
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The next time you watch a movie or television show set in a high school, it's possible you’re looking at a bunch of extras toting Bubble Wrap around campus. Actors sometimes carry backpacks stuffed with the product so they're not forced to lug around heavy books during a long shooting day.

6. Someone once figured out if you could jump out of a six-story window and land safely on it.

Feet on the edge of a building.
iStock

Could Bubble Wrap cushion a fall? While we would never recommend you put it to the test, one theory says maybe. In 2011, WIRED contributor Rhett Allain crunched numbers and estimated one might need 39 layers of Bubble Wrap in order to survive a fall out of a sixth-story window.

7. An air force base once mistook its pops for gunshots.

Bubble wrap with a blue tint.
iStock

In December 2015, security officials were called to the Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico after reports of gunshots were heard. High-powered weapons and Humvees were assembled before officials determined that the “threat” had been someone on base popping Bubble Wrap.

8. The boy scouts set a popping world record.

Close-up of a Boy Scout uniform.
iStock

In 2015, Boy Scouts in Elbert, Colorado succeeded in setting a Guinness World Record for the most number of people popping Bubble Wrap simultaneously: 2681 Scouts participated.

9. An artist uses bubble wrap to create "pop art."

Artist Bradley Hart attends the opening reception for The Masters Interpreted at Cavalier Gallery on May 7, 2014 in New York City.
Andrew Toth, Getty Images

Artist Bradley Hart has a unique approach to modern art. Using a syringe, he injects paint into individual air cylinders of Bubble Wrap, creating pixelated-looking landscapes and portraits. Hart also displays the reverse side of these works, which feature running paint from the injections and serve as a counterpoint to the more disciplined image on the front.

10. Some bubble wrap doesn't pop.

Rolls of bubble wrap and shipping boxes.
iStock

Sacrificing fun for practicality, in 2015 Sealed Air began offering iBubble Wrap, a product that ships flat and uninflated so it takes up less space in warehouses. (Customers can inflate it when it’s ready to be used.) It's as effective as regular Bubble Wrap, with one caveat: once filled, it doesn't make any satisfying noise when popped.

11. It once kept a giant pumpkin from disaster.

Close-up of a giant pumpkin.
iStock

What happens when you drop an 815-pound pumpkin from a 35-foot crane? Normally, a crime scene. But in October 2000, a pumpkin-dropping contest in Iowa decided to see if a Bubble Wrap landing pad could protect "Gourdzilla" from harm [PDF]. Landing on the product, the mammoth squash was completely intact.

12. Popping it may have health benefits.

Woman popping Bubble Wrap on a table with coffee nearby.
iStock

Popping Bubble Wrap ranks among life’s greatest small pleasures. (Sealed Air even offers an "Anti-Stress"-labeled roll of the stuff.) Some have theorized it may have to do with our ancestral habit of crushing ticks or other insects that plagued us—although the truth may be a little less morbid. In 1992, psychology professor Kathleen Dillon conducted a study in which she found that subjects were more relaxed and less tired after a popping session. One possible reason: Humans are soothed by tactile sensations of touch, which is why some cultures favor smooth stones or "worry beads" to manipulate for comfort. That might explain why virtual popping on cell phones or screens doesn't have quite the same effect.

13. It was a Toy Hall of Fame finalist in 2016.

Child popping Bubble Wrap.
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Popping Bubble Wrap has become such a beloved pastime that the National Toy Hall of Fame once considered it for inclusion. In 2016, the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York nominated Bubble Wrap along with Care Bears, Dungeons & Dragons, and other playthings for induction. Bubble Wrap didn't make the cut, but for a "toy" that is essentially nothing but air, it must have been an honor just to be considered.

14. You can opt for fancy versions.

Bubble Wrap with heart shapes.
Aimee Ray, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bored with conventional Bubble Wrap? Sealed Air also manufactures sheets with air cushions shaped like letters that spell out "happy holidays" and chambers shaped like hearts or smiley faces.

15. Sealed air once made golden wrap.

Gold Bubble Wrap.
Delyth Angharad, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Bubble Wrap's debut as a shipping staple, Sealed Air released a special commemorative golden Bubble Wrap in 2010.

16. One bride wore a bubble wrap wedding dress.

Woman laying down, wearing bubble wrap.
Felipe Neves, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With an eye on a sustainable gown for her wedding, England native Rachael Robinson decided to opt for a Bubble Wrap-crafted dress in May 2010. The dress was made at the school Robinson taught at for a fashion show of recyclable materials. It featured a three-foot Bubble Wrap train. (She wore a more conventional dress at a second ceremony.)

17. Norway uses it to prevent hypothermia.

Emergency responders carrying a stretcher in the snow.
iStock

When transporting critically ill patients, Norwegian emergency medicine technicians sometimes use Bubble Wrap to prevent hypothermia in the frigid climate. In 2009, a study was conducted to determine Bubble Wrap's efficacy in heat retention in mannequins. It was found to be only 69 percent as effective as blankets, or about the equivalent of a sleeping bag.

18. It made the cover of Playboy in 1997.

Portrait of Farrah Fawcett.
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

Proving that Bubble Wrap has unlimited uses, actress Farrah Fawcett posed wearing only a run of the see-through material for a 1997 Playboy cover and interior photo spread. Because the Wrap left nothing to the imagination, Fawcett's cover was shipped only to subscribers.

19. The bubble wrap factory is like an oven.

Sheet of Bubble Wrap
iStock

To churn out the miles of Bubble Wrap produced yearly, Sealed Air’s factory in Elmwood Park, New Jersey can be a bit stifling. The machines use resin to create the sheets at temperatures of 560 degrees, making the air around it "sweat-inducing."

20. It's in the Museum Of Modern Art.

Close-up of Bubble Wrap.
iStock

In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art accepted a donation from Sealed Air of a nearly 12-inch by 12-inch square of Bubble Wrap into their Architecture and Design collection. It went on display as part of their Humble Masterpieces collection, which also featured chopsticks and the Band-Aid.

21. Amazon may ship your bubble wrap in protective packaging.

Curl of brown paper over Bubble Wrap.
iStock

A bizarre photo of a Bubble Wrap order covered in shipping paper made the viral rounds in 2015, with people puzzled why Amazon would need to protect protective packaging material. One possible answer: because the roll didn't take up the entire box, shippers reinforced the empty space with additional packing material so the cardboard wouldn't collapse and send stacked boxes above it tumbling.

22. It has inspired young inventors.

Young girl with a
iStock

Back in 2007, Sealed Air sponsored a Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors, encouraging grade school students to find alternative uses for their celebrated product. Among the ideas: using a layer of Wrap as a building material to absorb shock on floors; as a rest pad for carpal tunnel sufferers; and as a wallpaper designed to stimulate children with autism. The annual contest ran through 2010.

23. It inspired a book.

Published in the 1998, The Bubble Wrap Book took a novel look at alternative uses for Bubble Wrap. Some were clearly intended for satirical purposes—like stuffing your wallet with the stuff to impress dates—while others may find some practical use. Making a mat out of Bubble Wrap could, in theory, alert you to a burglar.

24. You can buy a Bubble Wrap calendar.

Bored with marking off days with a big red X? Sealed Air licenses day calendars that allow consumers to punctuate dates by popping a giant bubble instead.

25. You can still use it as insulation.

Globe wrapped in Bubble Wrap.
iStock

Sealed Air doesn't officially endorse its use as insulation, but Bubble Wrap can indeed do what its inventors aspired toward back in the 1950s. Using the packaging material around windows can help retain heat indoors and help keep homes cool during summer, with the trapped air in the bubbles having a thermal retention effect. This assumes you can keep from popping them.

A Poop Museum Is Coming to Japan

iStock.com/Sudowoodo
iStock.com/Sudowoodo

The itinerary for your dream trip to Japan just got a little longer. A pop-up poop museum is coming to Yokohama—Japan’s second largest city by population, and an area that’s easily reached by bullet train from Tokyo.

As Time Out Tokyo reports, the Unko Museum (Poop Museum) is slated to open March 15, around the same time that international tourists will start flocking to Japan to take part in sakura season, which marks the annual blooming of the country’s pretty pink cherry blossoms.

Turd-themed installations seem to be the antithesis of fresh, delicate flowers, but this museum won’t be obscene or crass. Like most things in Japan, this poop will be kawaii, which is Japanese for all things adorable. The Instagram-friendly museum will be championed by its resident mascot, Unberuto, who happens to be a literal walking pile of poo who carries a toilet around on his shoulder as if it were a boombox. Poop-Boy, another anthropomorphic feces figure from the 1984 manga series Dr. Slump, is said to have inspired much of Japan's poop kawaii culture.

According to WIRED, Japan launched its first poop emoji in 2000—a decade before the Unicode Consortium adopted the smiling “Pile of Poo emoji that we all know and love today. It goes without saying that this quirky museum will not feel out of place in Japan, which is also home to a museum of parasites and a love doll museum.

Believe it or not, the Unko Museum won't be the world’s first poop museum, either. That dubious honor goes to the Museo Della Merda (Sh*t Museum) in Italy, which covers the history of poop as well as innovative uses for manure. There’s also a National Poo Museum on England’s Isle of Wight, where you can find displays of different types of feces, as well as fossilized dung from 140 million years ago.

However, if you have dreams of snapping selfies in front of a steaming pile of pink doo-doo in Japan, you’d better book your trip fast: This exhibit closes July 15, 2019.

[h/t Time Out Tokyo]

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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