What a dark time it was in the American kitchen: 1926, a year before the dawn of the Age of Convenient Wrapping.
There was butcher paper, a waxed paper available in sheets from the meat market, but little else was available to protect food from spoiling in a sea of air and ambient smells. No Baggies. No Saran Wrap, Ziplocs, Reynolds Oven Bags or Hefty OneZips. No Reynolds Wrap. Not even Cut-Rite Wax Paper in the box with the serrated metal cutting edge -- wax paper as handy as water from a kitchen sink.
Water was on the planet first, but sometimes you have to remind yourself: someone had to invent these products. The modern kitchen and its accessories, from aluminum to petrochemicals, had to be created. This year marks two milestones in kitchen evolution : 70 years of easy-to-use Wax Paper, 50 years of aluminum foil.
It all began in 1927. Roswell Rausch, who owned a paper machine company in Hoboken, N.J., made Cut-Rite Wax Paper.
The development was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Rausch didn't invent wax paper, but he did move it from the butcher shop to the kitchen counter, putting it on a slender roll in a dispenser with a cutting edge that was easy to use. His creation became king of wrap.
Its reign lasted 20 years, through the Great Depression and until shortly after World War II. But by the early 1940s, developments on two fronts were under way that would eventually end Cut-Rite's dominion over the world of wrap.
Early in World War II, the U.S. military found it needed something to protect war materiel from the elements during outdoor storage. The Dow Chemical company created a plastic film made of polyvinylidene chloride -- clingy stuff that sealed out moisture and air while allowing a clear view of what lay underneath. More than 10 years would pass, however, before it appeared on grocery store shelves as Saran Wrap.
Meanwhile, aluminum manufacturers were working overtime to supply the armament industry. Reynolds Metals complemented its military work with experiments in household uses of aluminum. Working roughly along the lines of the lead and tin industries, which had created foils used in packaging tea and tobacco, Reynolds came up with aluminum pressed by rollers, thin enough to tear and fold like paper, but strong and capable of holding shape. It could serve as a heat conductor or insulator, depending on how it was used.
Cut-Rite was a leap in convenience, but aluminum foil carried wrapping to another level.
The story goes that Clarence Manning, a Reynolds vice president living in Richmond, Va., was alerted by his wife on a Thanksgiving Day morning in the early 1940s that she did not have a roasting pan large enough to cook a turkey. Stores were closed for the holidays.
What to do?
Manning had some aluminum foil that they were tinkering with at the plant.
Try this, he said.
She wrapped the turkey in the foil and put it in the oven. The makeshift roasting pan worked -- the first of the "1,001 Kitchen Miracles" later touted on the Reynolds Wrap box.
When the war ended and demand for aluminum declined, Reynolds Metals focused more energy on developing a household aluminum foil. In 1947 the company introduced Reynolds Wrap.
It wasn't the easiest sell, says Charles Mapes, who was vice president of consumer products at the time.
"You must remember, we were introducing a new element," says Mapes, 84, who lives in Richmond. "It wasn't just another box of crackers or another bar of soap. This was something no one had seen before."
It was an alien concept: a wrap that also could serve as cookware. People had a tough time fathoming that, says Mapes. Nevertheless, the A&P; Tea Company in Richmond bought 400 cases -- 24 cartons to a case -- to supply about 100 stores in Virginia in the fall of 1947.
Pretty soon they started inventing uses. In the early days, says Mapes, one woman wrote to Reynolds saying her new parrot did not speak until she lined the bottom of his cage with Reynolds Wrap, shiny side up. Before long the bird started talking to its own reflection in the foil.
Another customer told how he warmed a meal while driving by wrapping the food in foil and setting it on the car engine under the closed hood.
Competitors Alcoa and Kaiser Aluminum introduced foils of their own in the early 1950s, when Reynolds Wrap began national distribution.
In those days the wrap world consisted of aluminum foil and wax paper. The products have not changed over the years, but their competition has.
"Consumers certainly have a lot of options," says Jamie R. Fryrear, the consumer education coordinator at DowBrands, a branch of Dow Chemical based in Indianapolis. It's a major understatement.
Her company ushered in a new era of Wrapmania in 1953 by marketing Saran Wrap. The name, Saran, was bought from Firestone, which had been making a plastic covering for streetcar seats. Saran Wrap begat Handi-Wrap, a less expensive and less sturdy polyethylene film used for shorter term storage introduced by DowBrands in 1960.
The polyethylene film begat the polyethylene bag, orginally created for industrial use and introduced to the kitchen by Mobil Oil's consumer products division as Baggies in the early 1960s. There were Baggies and, from FirstBrands, Glad bags. Soon came the freezer bag, the heavy duty bag, the sandwich bag and the Hefty Bag.
Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but with Wrapmania in full vigor in the 1960s, Bulgarian-born pop artist Christo began his ambitious wrapping projects. In 1968 he wrapped an art museum in Bern, Switzerland. The following year he wrapped part of the Australian coastline.
In the meantime, DowBrands was working on a better bag. It found an opening for improvement in. . . the opening.
The Baggie closed with a tuck-in flap. Something had to be done. In 1972, DowBrands brought out the Ziploc recloseable seal bag, which gave rise to a family of polyethylene bags. There was the Ziploc storage bag, not to be confused with the Ziploc sandwich bag, snack bag or freezer bag. The latest, the Ziploc vegetable bag, is made with hundreds of tiny holes in the polyethylene, designed to let moisture escape and keep food fresh.
The Baggies people could not just sit back and watch all this happen. In 1995 they went national with the Hefty OneZip, a recloseable bag with a slider on the bag. No more need to press the seal together with your fingertips.
"This is the latest and in our opinion the greatest," says Fady Sahhar, the communications manager for Tenneco Consumer Products of Pittsford, N.Y., which now makes Baggies and Hefty bags. Seventy years after Cut-Rite, 50 years after Reynolds Wrap we arrived with a plastic bag that zips shut like a pair of pants.
"It's an amazing evolution," says Sahhar.
Milestones of wrap
1927: A Hoboken, N.J., paper machinery company produces the first cartons of cut-Rite Wax paper.
1947: Reynolds Metals sells the first load of Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil to the A&P; Tea Co. of Richmond, Va.
1953: Dow Chemical introduces Saran Wrap.
Circa 1965: Baggies storage bags appear, a product of Mobile Chemical Co.
Circa 1968: Hefty bags, from 4 - to 55- gallon sizes.
1972: Dow Chemical unveils the Ziploc reclosable storage bag.
1994: Appearance of the Hefty OneZip, a bag that closes with a plastic zipper.
Some of foils's 1,001 uses
Leftovers: Many restaurants have made the task of wrapping tTC leftovers a form of foil art, such as the swan.
Anniversaries: The 11th wedding anniversary is the aluminum anniversary.
Pub Date: 5/11/97