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Moving equipment: Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is arguably the most popular packing supply of all time.

Bubble wrap is arguably the most popular packing supply of all time.

It's got a million and one uses, is more satisfying to squeeze than Charmin, and might be the most fun part about moving. It is, of course, bubble wrap. One of the most popular packing supplies, the clear plastic has provided hours of popping joy to people around the world - but bubble wrap almost didn't come to be.

After the moving company drops off your stuff, odds are you, like many Americans, store your leftover bubble wrap in the garage. Fitting, since that's where it was invented. In 1957, two engineers in New Jersey stumbled upon bubble wrap while trying to create a plastic-backed wallpaper in their garage. Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding never convinced people that their product would look good on the wall, but a few years later, while flying on an airplane, Chavannes realized the material could be used to help insulate items during shipping.

The pair started Sealed Air Corporation in 1960 and began marketing their failed wallpaper as packing material. Their first client, IBM, used it to protect some of the world's first computers during shipment. From there, the company grew. It began making envelopes padded with bubble wrap, and eventually acquired several other manufacturers of packing supplies. Today, the company still makes bubble wrap, along with a variety of other packing materials for food, medical supplies and other industries.

After years of practice, the Sealed Air Corporation has the process of making bubble wrap down to a science. It starts with millions of tiny beads of polyethylene resin - basically, plastic. Those beads get dumped into an extruder, where they are heated and carried along a giant screw. The melted plastic is pushed through the end of the extruder, forming two giant sheets of thin plastic, one of which is wrapped around a cylindrical drum that has holes in it. Vacuum pressure is applied, sucking some of the still-malleable plastic into the holes, creating the air capsules we're all familiar with. The second sheet is laminated to the first, sealing in the air and creating a cushioned sheet of bubble wrap.

The material is so versatile and popular, it even has its own holiday. Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day was started by an Indiana radio station in 2001 and has grown from there. The day celebrates the many uses for bubble wrap that extend beyond packing up a home, including bubble wrap volleyball, bubble wrap sculptures and bubble wrap costumes.