10 Famous Cardboard Boxes Throughout History

cardboard boxes

When you think of significant historical figures and events, the humble cardboard box may not immediately spring to mind. This simple packaging solution, first produced in paperboard form in 1817 and later corrugated card from 1890, has entirely changed how we store and deliver items. This more than secures its place in history, but the cardboard box has gained many more uses and associations over its lifetime.

From childhood palace to film motif, the cardboard box has played a big part in many historical and cultural events, as well as our everyday lives. Here we list 10 of the most famous cardboard boxes in order to showcase the multifaceted history of this deceptively ‘boring’ invention.

  1. The Box Honoured in the Toy Hall of Fame

Let’s start with a box that honours the fun and imagination cardboard boxes have inspired from the very start. The Toy Hall of Fame in New York pays homage to the cardboard box as a children’s toy for the generations, used for everything from rockets to robot costumes.

The box chosen to represent the countless hours of fun children have had from using and transforming spare cardboard boxes is truly a historical tribute to the creative use of boxes everywhere. As the museum writes on their webpage:

“The strength, light weight, and easy availability that make cardboard boxes successful with industry have made them endlessly adaptable by children for creative play.”

  1. Ubiquitous on the Breakfast Table: Kellogg’s Cornflakes Boxes

Cornflakes were recently voted one of the UK’s favourite breakfast cereals, only beaten out by porridge, and the Kelloggs box with the green rooster is certainly an iconic image in British consumerism.

These innocent flakes of corn happen to have a very odd history. Their original maker, Sir. John Harvey Kellogg, was a Seventh-Day Adventist and superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitorium in Michigan. Kellogg restricted his patients to bland food, believing sweet and spicy foods would unnecessarily increase their passions.

Kellogg and his younger brother discovered cornflakes by accident, when they left some cooked wheat to sit. The stale wheat, when rolled, formed flakes instead of dough. Kellogg decided to brand Cornflakes as the perfect food for decreasing sexual desires, particularly masturbation, which he viewed as a cause of moral corruption.

Thankfully this association has since been consigned to history, and now people in over 80 countries have a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes on their table for breakfast.

  1. Sherlock’s Most Box-filled Adventure…

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories starring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, and one of these starred none other than a cardboard box. In ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box’, published in 1892, Holmes and his sidekick Watson set out to find who sent Miss Susan of Cushing a cardboard box containing two salted ears.

We won’t spoil the ending of course, but this story shows how package delivery can lead to all sorts of surprises – some much worse than others!

  1. A Box You’d Hesitate to Rip Open

On the subject of Victorian crime tales… in 1888, ‘Jack the Ripper’ was terrorising the streets of London, killing sex workers and baffling the police. Many frustrated civilians created Vigilance Committees to patrol the streets at night. The chairman of one such committee, Mr. George Lusk, received a rather nasty package for his efforts. Inside the box was part of a human kidney and a note, which read:

“From hell, Mr. Lusk, sir, I send you half the kidney I took from one woman, preserved it for you, t’other piece I fried and ate it; was very nice. I may send you the bloody knife that took it out if you only wait a while longer. Catch me when you can, Mr. Lusk.”

Whether the note was from Jack the Ripper or an impersonator we will never know, as the sender was never identified.

  1. And All Because The Lady Loves Milk Tray (Boxes)

Cadbury’s Milk Tray is one of the most popular chocolate boxes in the UK, gaining notoriety after the famous 1970 advert starring the ‘Milk Tray Man’ and his shark-fighting adventure to deliver a box of Milk Tray to his amour.

There’s nothing quite like lifting the lid to reveal an array of tasty chocolates, and in Milk Tray’s case we’ve got cardboard boxes to thank for that!

  1. Giving Hope: Castaway’s FedEx Box

In Castaway, Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee who becomes stranded on an island with only a volleyball called Wilson for company. He has a parcel with him, a single FedEx box that becomes one of the most significant symbols of the film.

The FedEx box is Noland’s only connection to his previous life while he is stranded on the island. He manages to resist opening it for four whole years because he was meant to be the person delivering it. The box becomes a symbol of his hope to someday return to normal life.

When he finally does deliver it at the end of the film, the person isn’t home so we never find out what was in the box. The viewer’s increasing curiosity is never satisfied, making the FedEx box an even more memorable part of this critically acclaimed film.

  1. Deal or No Deal? TV’s Most Exciting Boxes

From 2005, the Deal Or No Deal game show took the UK by storm. The most potent image from the show is the row of red numbered boxes, which a single contestant opens one by one in an attempt to beat the banker for a cash prize.

Once again, the mystery and intrigue of the humble cardboard box comes into play, this time in an exciting game show format which became extremely popular on British television.

  1. Amazon Shipping Boxes: Bringing Commerce Online

When you think ecommerce, you think Amazon. The online giant was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, and has since grown to dominate international markets and become the largest Internet retailer worldwide.

We’ve therefore given Amazon shipping boxes a prized place on this list, as they’re known the world over for their ultra-recognisable logo. It’s not all been plain sailing, however; in 2016, the company vowed to tackle excessive packaging after receiving numerous complaints. Just goes to show it pays to be able to choose the right size box for the job!

  1. YouTube Stars: Maru the Cat’s Magical Box Dives

Lots of cats appreciate a good cardboard box, but none more so than Maru, a cat from Japan who loves to jump and dive into cardboard receptacles. As soon as he sees a box, he simply must be in it.

Maru has gained internet fame, and in the process so have the boxes he so loves to play with. For an adorable example, watch Maru try to get into a series of smaller and smaller boxes!


  1. ‘What’s In The Box?’: The Most Chilling Scene from Se7en

The final scene of the gruesome thriller Se7en is a masterclass in suspense, all thanks to a cardboard box.

Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) reluctantly opens the bloodstained box to reveal the nightmare within, but the audience only discovers it to be the severed head of the wife of Mills (Brad Pitt) when Mills himself does. The audience feels Mills’ excruciating revelation from beginning to end, the physical barrier of the box keeping us on a tightrope of uncertainty.

This scene has definitely helped Se7en leave an indelible mark on the imaginations of its widespread audience. The phrase ‘what’s in the box?’ has since become a slang term for expecting something terrible to happen, reflecting upon the sense of trepidation the box inspired.

What next for the cardboard box?

We couldn’t say how the humble cardboard box will next make an impact on history, but there’s one thing we do know: for companies dealing with a large number of cardboard boxes for package and delivery, bespoke box making machines are the next step in cardboard box history.

From ecommerce shops to wholesale warehouses, being able to create any shape and size of box quickly and conveniently is key. With a box making machine, your business packaging will always be the right size, preventing space issues and saving money on postage.

For more information on how a box making machine can help your business, check out the BCS website at bcsboxer.com