Many people don’t realize that Bubble Wrap—the inflated, cushioning wrap that fills boxes and is addictive to “pop”—is a trademarked name. The Sealed Air company owns the trademark. Bubble Wrap is everywhere, and it’s hard to imagine moving or shipping anything without it. That’s not bad for an invention that started off as wallpaper.
Invented in a Garage
In 1957, engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes were working in Fielding’s garage in New Jersey. Their goal was to create a three-dimensional, textured wallpaper. They thought it would be ideal for people who liked “mod” fashions. To make it, they heat-sealed sealed two shower curtains together.
The result was not what they expected. They had created a flexible plastic sheet with a row of bubbles inside it.
Fielding’s son Howard was five years old at the time. He was officially the first person to realize that popping the tiny bubbles between the sheets was irresistible. He later told Smithsonian magazine, “They were really fun to pop. The bubbles were a lot bigger then, so they made a loud noise.”
In 1960, Fielding and Chavannes formed the Sealed Air company to manufacture and sell their Bubble Wrap. They received several patents for their invention and eventually began trying to sell it as greenhouse insulation. They didn’t get many takers for insulation, either.
Fortunately, they didn’t give up. Their success was just over the horizon.
Around this time, IBM announced that its new computer was available for sale. Frederick Bowers, a marketing manager at Sealed Air, contacted IBM to suggest the company use Bubble Wrap to protect its computers during shipping.
After a demonstration of the product’s protective qualities, IBM agreed. After that, IBM began regularly using Bubble Wrap to ship its computers and parts.
Growing in Popularity
Other companies quickly took note of the useful, versatile wrap and began using it to protect their fragile items when moving or shipping them. Most companies relied on newspaper as protective packaging, but newspaper didn’t protect as well as Bubble Wrap.
Sealed Air and Bubble Wrap both enjoyed healthy profits, especially when the company developed Bubble Wrap in different sheet sizes and bubble sizes
In 1971, the company hired T.J. Dermot Dunphy as its CEO. Dunphy took the company from $5 million in annual sales to $3 billion in 2000.
Today, Sealed Air has annual sales of more than $4 billion from Bubble Wrap, Cryovac bags and other protective products. It has moved its headquarters to North Carolina. It now makes Bubble Wrap in countries around the world.
Pink Bags and Trademarks
Bubble Wrap has not been involved in major lawsuits over its trademark. It has, however, been at the center of an interesting, long-running trademark battle by makeup company Glossier. Glossier, which sells high-end makeup and skincare products, is known for placing its products inside pink Bubble Wrap bags. The distinctive bags are closely linked to the customer experience of buying Glossier products.
In 2018, Glossier attempted to trademark its use of the pink Bubble Wrap bags. Glossier has trademarks on some of its brand names and its “G” logo, but it wanted to trademark the pink bags.
The company argued that its customers closely associate its name with those pink Bubble Wraps. The company uses the same bright pink color in all its corporate branding. Glossier argued that this gave it the right to trademark the little pink bags.
The U.S. Patent and Trade Office, however, disagreed. It identified the pouches as a “functional design” since the Bubble Wrap protects products inside the pouches.
Glossier responded with a 2019 filing that attempted to trademark the pink color it uses on the bags.
Getting a trademark for a color is difficult. It only happens when a product is so well-known, and so closely associated with a particular color, that most people would automatically make that association. The examples we’ve covered on this blog include Target Red and Tiffany Blue.
Read more on trademarking common words.
Sealed Air has issued special editions of Bubble Wrap over the years. In 2010, the company issued a golden Bubble Wrap to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a product. You can also buy Bubble Wrap with seasonal themes, for instance, Bubble Wrap with heart-shaped bubbles for Valentine’s Day.
Bubble Wrap is more than just a packaging material. It’s become part of our culture. YouTube is full of Bubble Wrap battles that feature people fighting inside giant pits lined with the insulating stuff.
In 2016, the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, nominated Bubble Wrap as one of its Toy Hall of Fame entrants. It didn’t win, but its nomination is a tribute to the fact that popping Bubble Wrap is a favorite pastime for both kids and adults.
In the movie Wall-E, the title character shared a piece of Bubble Wrap with the object of his affection.
In 2010, Rachel Robinson created a wedding dress out Bubble Wrap. She said she wanted an eco-friendly dress that wouldn’t harm the environment. To achieve that, he fashioned a dress out of recycled Bubble Wrap and white fabric.
It wasn’t the first time. In the movie Dude, Where’s My Car?, the two main characters appeared in Bubble Wrap suits. Halloween stores still sell Bubble Wrap suits.
At the 2019 London Fashion Week, designer Craig Green showed a line of men’s fashions created entirely out of what looked like Bubble Wrap. In pink, yellow and other bright colors, these plastic garments featured bubble-like patterns and protective rain hats.
The designer didn’t use Bubble Wrap, but the sheer plastic material bears a very strong resemblance to the packaging material.
It’s a Wrap
Bubble Wrap has been around for 50 years, and it is likely to be around for 50 more. When you use it, don’t forget to pop those bubbles.