In a 1925 advertising pamphlet, the newly formed DuPont Cellophane company extolled its new product, “DuPont Cellophane: The New Super Wrap”:
…as transparent as glass…its smooth surface and lustrous gloss enhance both color and form. … It is germ-proof, odorless and odor-proof, and will preserve freshness and prevent contamination.
Most importantly, Cellophane promised to improve sales:
a wrap of Cellophane will permit a clear view of your product so that it can advertise and sell itself at the same time protecting it from handling, dust, germs, bacteria, etc. It is estimated that 90% of all merchandise in the retail store is bought through appeal to the eye. A wrap of Cellophane cannot fail to add materially to the salability of your product through its appearance alone.
DuPont listed 18 industries and products that were using Cellophane to advantage, including tobacco, meats, drugs, and cosmetics. Number one was candy and confectionery.
Cellophane was an exciting product in the 1920s. Books and pamphlets were published extolling its uses not only in wrapping and preserving goods, but in crafts as well. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company commissioned a study investigating the impact of such transparent wrappers on various industries, including the candy industry.
Whitman, of “Whitman’s Chocolate Sampler Box,” was the first Cellophane customer in America. Transparent wrapping had enormous benefits for candy sales. Customers liked knowing that the candy was protected, and they being able to see what they were getting. One candy retailer reported:
As an indication of what transparent wrapping will do in increasing and maintaining the sale of the product, last summer we took an item which was slowly but surely losing consumer acceptance, packaged it in a transparent bag, and almost immediately our sales increased.
DuPont didn’t invent cellophane. A Swiss engineer discovered the material in 1908. As as early as 1914, “La Cellophane” was available to U.S. candy makers, imported from France by Franz Euler and Company and advertised in the major candy trade journals.
The earliest cellophanes were waterproof, but not impervious to water vapor. This was a problem for candy, but DuPont created a new moisture-proof formulation in 1927, and candy wrapping was never the same. Not every candy seller in the 1920s could see that candy was on the brink of a revolution. When asked about what impact cellophane was likely to have on the candy business, one manufacturer opined:
I believe that transparent packaging will continue to grow in favor. HoweverI do not believe that they will ever entirely take the place of candies packed in bulk.
But by the 1950s, cellophane was everywhere. DuPont had expanded its own production, and others had started manufacturing the material. DuPont was the major player, though. The Justice Department went so far as to bring a lawsuit against DuPont in 1947 charging a monopoly on wrapping materials, the famous cellophane anti-trust case. While DuPont’s plans for expansion were held up by the litigation, the company took the extraordinary step of encouraging their competitors to meet the cellophane demand.
It is true that in a few “nostalgia” shops, candy can still be bought in bulk. But clear plastic wrappers are so common today, we don’t even notice them. Many new strong, transparent and flexible materials have become available for candy packaging. DuPont stopped making cellophane in 1986. But it was cellophane that started the revolution.
Du Pont Cellophane: The New Super Wrap. (New York: DuPont Cellophane Co., 1925);Transparent wrappings as a sales aid for food products; a report on the experiences of 29 companies. (New York: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Policyholders Service Bureau, 1932);Craft with “Cellophane” cellulose film.(New York : Du Pont Cellophane Co., 1935); The History of Cellophane, by Mary Bellis at http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventions/a/Cellophane.htm
More: For an extended discussion of the rapid rise of wrappers in candy manufacture between 1914 and 1917, see my article The Candy Prophylactic: Danger, Disease, and Children’s Candy around 1916, in particular the section titled “Covers and Wrappings: the Rise of Hygenic Candy”
The New York Times obituary of Karl Prindle, who invented the waterproofing formula for Du Pont, tells another part of the cellophane story.