Wednesday's Book: The Total Package by Thomas Hine (Little, Brown, pounds 9.99)

Unwrapping the mystique of the packet, the American design critic Thomas Hine notes that the "persuasive container" is an inherent element of the natural world: "The phenomena that are most relevant to packaging - fruit, nuts, pods, flowers - are reproductive, rather than merely protective like the oyster shell." The perplexing appeal of Coca-Cola may be explained by the fact that the "female shape" of the original cinch-waisted bottle prompts prenatal memories. As Hine says, "Mom is the package we came in."

Specialised containers for wine and beer were used in Iran more than 5,000 years ago. The uniform shape and marks on Roman perfume bottles suggests that branding and mass production have been with us for at least two millennia. But the first modern packages came with 17th-century patent medicines, an unexpected aspect of Puritanism. The trustworthy image of the medicine-selling Quaker was later appropriated for the first packaged food to be sold nationally in America.

The packaging industry gained momentum when a cannery using tin plate opened in Bermondsey in 1812. Six years later, the Royal Navy was annually using around 24,000 large tins of "embalmed provisions", opened using a hammer and chisel.

The paper bag was invented in 1852, and was rapidly adopted because of the cloth-sack shortage during the American Civil War. The glass bottle was a late-comer to automation, being blown entirely by hand until the l890s.

Utilising these innovations, the great names of modern mass merchandising appear towards the end of the 19th century. After a failure with bottled horseradish, HJ Heinz began to pack ketchup in 1876. Campbell's condensed soup, with a red and white label based on the colours of Cornell University football team, appeared in 1899. A cereal, "mostly for horses and a few stray Scots", became a mainstay of American cuisine following the appearance of Quaker Oats in 1886.

The appearance of such famous brands has scarcely changed over the past century, but others have required extensive readjustment. Few have been more radical than the sex-change experienced by Marlboro. First marketed as a lady's cigarette ("Mild as May"), it adopted a more hunky image in the Fifties. Not only did the flip-top pack suggest that users led a more rugged life, but its very awkwardnessreminded smokers of the brand.

Hine's potted history misses one or two tricks. Though he stresses how characterless products like water and vodka tend to have distinctively fancy bottles in compensation, he does not note that the design of the Perrier bottle was based on the Indian clubs whirled by the Rothschild founder of the brand. Nor, in his analysis of Procter & Gamble brands, does he touch on the rumour that sped through America: namely that the conglomerate's moon and stars logo was the sign of the devil. But this is a well-researched account, entertainingly recounted, of an essential aspect of Americana. It deserves a place alongside Bill Bryson's Made in America.

Christopher Hirst

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

    Recruitment Genius: Upholsterer

    £9 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are seeking excellent indi...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

    £20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Managed IT Services Provid...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral