People and Leaders

History of Cellophane

What happened to the King of Plastics?

Jacques E. Brandenberger

In 1900, a Swiss gentlemen under the name of Jacques E. Brandenberger was sitting at a table in a restaurant. He didn’t know it but his life was going to change. He was going to write history and change the world.

Brandenberger was born on the 18th of October 1872 in Zurich under the sign of Libra and graduated from the University of Bern in 1895. He worked at a company called Blanchisserie et Teinturerie de Thaon when he invented Cellophane.

Brandenberger noticed a customer spilt wine onto the tablecloth. As the waiter replaced the cloth, Brandenberger got the idea to develop a material that would repeal liquid instead of absorbing it. His first step was to spray a waterproof coating onto fabric and he opted for viscose. The resulting coated fabric was far too stiff and the clear film easily separated from the backing cloth. He abandoned his original idea as the possibilities of the new material became apparent.

Brandenberger was awarded the Franklin Institute’s Elliott Cresson Medal in 1937 and passed away in July 1954. His estimated net worth at the time of his death was around $10 Million.

How is Cellophane produced?

The original Cellophane material was made from wood cellulose. Cellophane is thus initially a bioplastics. Nowadays much of what we refer to as “Cellophane” is actually plastic wrap derived from petroleum. PVC has been used since the 1960s and polypropylene since the 1980s.

In the manufacturing process, an alkaline solution of cellulose fibres (usually wood or cotton) known as viscose is extruded through a narrow slit into an acid bath. The acid regenerates the cellulose, forming a film. Further treatment, such as washing and bleaching, yields cellophane.

History of Cellophane

  • 1900 – Brandenberger’s initial idea is born to invent a coating material for textiles and clothes to make them stain resistant.
  • 1908 – Cellophane is invented. The original formula was made from wood cellulose.
  • 1912 – Brandenberger invents the machine that would enable industrial production.
  • 1917 – Brandenberger creates a company to manage his patents. The company is called La Cellophane S.A. (Société Anonyme).
  • 1920 – Industrial production of Cellophane started  and never stopped since then.
  • 1923 – Brandenberger sells the rights of Cellophane in the US to DuPont (US company)
  • 1924 – Industrial production of Cellophane starts in the US.
  • 1927 – Cellophane had a major problem: it was water-proof but not moisture-proof. Candies stuck to it; knives rusted in it; cigars dried out. A Dupont employee called William Hale Charch improves the patent by making it moisture-proof and enabling food packaging applications.
  • 1939 – 44: Cellophane is classified as an essential material. It’s used for the packaging of soldier’s rations and for making vapor-resistant gas capes. It will eventually be used as rain capes by US soldiers during WWII.
  • 1947: US vs Dupont; the Cellophane Case. Dupont is accused of monopolizing, attempting to monopolize and conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce in cellophane and cellulosic caps and bands in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.

The Cellophane Brand

The word Cellophane was invented by Brandenberger himself. It came from cellulose  and diaphane. Diaphane is a French word that means transparent (diaphanous).

The Cellophane brand was so famous that it became a generic term and the only eponym of the plastics industry. An eponym is when a brand gives its name to the object. Cellophane gave its name to plastic films. The Cellophane brand value is estimated around  $150 million; the amount of money needed to reach that level of brand recognition.

Retail Revolution

Cellophane revolutionised shopping and packaging: it became the first see-through packaging. Resulting in the notion of … To buy food with your eyes. Cellophane enabled people to choose food on the basis of how it looked, without sacrificing hygiene or freshness.

Cellophane helped to disrupt shopping behaviour. Customers no longer queued to tell shop assistants what food they required; they picked products off the shelves directly.

The first uses included wrapping chocolates, perfume and flowers. The applications in the food industry became unlimited when William Hale Charch made the upgrade (the cellophane was coated with extremely thin layers of nitrocellulose, wax, a plasticiser and a blending agent).

The J.E. Brandenberger Foundation

Brandenberger’s daughter, Irma Marthe, inheritated her father’s estate in 1954. She established a foundation under her father’s name in her last will. She passed away in July 1986.

The guiding idea of the institution was to honour individuals who have done great service for the welfare of mankind. Irrespective of gender and religious or political persuasion, outstanding achievements in natural sciences and liberal arts, social work, the promotion and preservation of humanitarian culture, and in raising living standards are to be honoured.

The first award was given by the foundation on the 6th of October 1990.

CLOSING REMARKS

More than just an idea or product, Cellophane became a legend, a landmark in the chemical industry.  More than just a name or company, Cellophane became a world famous brand; the most famous plastic brand. More than just a game changer, Cellophane became a disruptor; it became the King of Plastics!

What happened to the Cellophane brand today? It was bought by a Japanese company. What did they do with it? Well, it looks as if they parked it in the garage.

Out of memory and respect for Mr. Brandenberger and all the marketeers who worked on the Cellophane brand in the past …. and with our traditional pinch of red hot chilly peppers …. we ask following questions:

  • Why buy the most famous plastic brands and let it die?

We’ve asked to Futamura what the current situation is regarding Cellophane but we haven’t received a response yet!

Cellophane Bread Advertising

Cellophane Advertising by Dupont in 1956
Cellophane Advertising by Dupont in 1956

 

Cellophane Advertising
Cellophane Advertising

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