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Venture into any household refrigerator and pantry in America and you are likely to find something in common. Each one will have shelves of cartons holding various food items. Whether it be for liquid perishables, such as milk, or for items such as solid crackers or delicate eggs, food cartons are essential to consumer protection and satisfaction. The history of food carton manufacture in America goes back to the 1800s, and has since boomed into one of the largest industries of the nation.

The First Factory Manufactured Cartons

Manufacturing cartons has a long history and use in many industries. The first carton was made from a piece of paperboard, which was die-ruled to specification, then cut and scored. The final product was a folding carton that could be replicated with just one impression. The first manufactured carton was in use around 1896, and was used to package crackers.

Early Pioneers of the Packaging Industry

One of the largest demands of the food industry for efficiently manufactured packaging was for milk. Although the first patent for paper milk cartons was not secured until 1915, there are records of commercially made containers being sold in California from 1906 and beyond.

Credit for the invention for the first milk carton goes to G. W. Maxwell; however, John Van Wormer secured the patent. This was a paper bottle that received the name “Pure-Pak.” It was made to be folded and glued prior to the milk and seal being added at a farm. It quickly caught on as a standard in the milk industry.

Increasing Demand for Food Cartons

Due to increasing demand for quality manufactured cartons, many automated systems were developed. These machines increased the efficiency of the repeatable parts of carton production. As more and more food began to be distributed in containers, the opinions of the consumer began to influence their design.

Mario Lepore engineered the gable top paper carton, which resembled a pitcher for easy pouring. This style of carton boasted a spout that unfolded upon opening, and refolded to close the carton. This has been the iconic milk carton for years only partially replaced in modern times by plastic pour spouts.

In fact, although there have been a few structural changes made with regard to food safety, most paper cartons have kept their shape. This makes it easy to reproduce the same carton for many businesses, with the only difference being the name and design of the printing. The automatic carton manufacture industry will always be the most simple and cost-effective way to bring food from company to consumer.