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Audio Tour Stop #5: Packaging Becomes a Powerful New Industry

U.S. manufacturing production was more than 12 times greater in 1920 than it was in 1860. Large scale manufacturing, improvements to transportation and changes to retailing made a variety of products accessible to the average person. The 14 and 16 hour work days and child labor common in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution gradually evolved into shorter shifts and improved working conditions. Retailing began shifting from small shopkeepers to large markets. Mail-order shopping surged. Consumer products and services that were considered luxuries or reserved for the wealthy were becoming widely available to the masses.

In the 50 years from the first packaging machine in 1851 to the beginning of the 20th century, packaging became a powerful new industry. The popularity of bottled beverages was a prime example. A case an hour or about 192 bottles a day was the typical output in the 1890s. With the transition from hand blowing and molds to machine manufacturing, containers became cheaper and safer to produce. Between 1880 and 1890 more than 330 types of bottle closures were patented. As the demand for bottled products grew, new and improved machines for filling, capping and labeling rapidly developed, replacing many processes that were all or partially manual. By the beginning of World War I, mechanical solutions became faster, more robust, capable of more sophisticated packaging. Automated packaging lines became more widespread across multiple industries.