Is the phrase “think outside the box" really about a box? Not exactly, but this phrase is commonly used to encourage people to think creatively.
Basically, it means to think about things in a new or uncommon way. “Inside the box" would be the typical way to think — responding in a typical, usual, or expected manner.
Although most people have an idea of what a “cardboard box" is, the term “cardboard" can actually be used to describe a wide variety of heavy paper-based materials. Two of the most common types of “cardboard" are paperboard and corrugated fiberboard.
Robert Gair invented the precut paperboard box in 1890 by accident. Gair was a printer and paper bag maker in Brooklyn, New York.
One day, while printing seed bags, a metal ruler he used to crease bags slipped and cut them instead. Gair realized that, if he cut and creased in one step, he could make prefabricated paperboard boxes.
Paperboard boxes really took off with the invention of flaked cereals, such as corn flakes. In fact, the Kellogg Company was the first to use paperboard boxes as cereal cartons.
What most of us think of when we hear “cardboard box" is actually a material called "corrugated fiberboard." Corrugated fiberboard is made of corrugated (also called "pleated" or "fluted") paper combined with one or two flat linerboards.
Separately, the parts of a cardboard box are just weak paper materials. Combined, though, they transform the weaker pieces into a rigid material suitable for packaging, shipping, and protecting a wide variety of delicate goods.
Corrugated paper was patented in England in 1856, where it was used as a liner for tall hats. It was not used for packaging and shipping, however, until several years later. On December 20, 1871, a patent was issued to Albert Jones of New York City for single-sided corrugated board.
In 1874, G. Smyth invented a machine that could produce mass quantities of corrugated board. That same year, Oliver Long invented corrugated board with linerboard on both sides, which is the corrugated cardboard we're familiar with today.
Today, the packaging and shipping of a single product is only the beginning of life for most corrugated cardboard boxes. In addition to being recycled into new boxes, many cardboard boxes are reused in a variety of ways, from sleds and children's toys to costumes and school projects.
Many parents often joke that their kids, when given an expensive present, enjoy the box it came in as much as the present itself. Sometimes it's true. Cardboard boxes, when combined with imagination, can be used in an almost-infinite number of ways.
Cardboard boxes enjoy a long, well-earned reputation as toys. In fact, in 2005, a cardboard box was added to the National Toy Hall of Fame. It's one of only a few non-brand-specific toys featured there.