Let's Wrap This Up

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In 1933 a young college student by the name of Ralph Wiley was working his part time job at Dow Chemical cleaning beakers used in a failed experiment to create newer and better dry cleaning chemicals. Unfortunately for Ralph, who was most likely hoping he'd be able to knock off early to try and score with some hot blonde, one of the beakers stubbornly refused to come clean. Now while most part-time workers would most likely eventually just give up and throw the beaker out, after all hot blondes were waiting, Ralph was a different sort of fella. Instead he took the beaker to his bosses and laid out all the ways that such a substance might be useful. Though the stuff was green, greasy, and stank to high heaven, the boss men agreed and before you could say Bob's your uncle they gave Ralph a full time job. That gunk in the beaker turned out to be a new type of plastic called polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), which the whizzes down at the marketing department branded under the name Saran, which was a combination of the boss man's cat's and dog's names, Sarah and Ann.

It took Ralph nearly three years to figure out how to take Saran from its humble beaker ruining beginnings and turn it into a product that was actually useful. First developed as a spray, Saran was sold to the military, because almost all great products have their start in military applications, where it was used as a coating for fighter jets to protect them from salty sea spray and as a mesh insole for combat boots. Soon after that it was picked up by the car industry to coat automobile upholstery to help make it more stain proof.

However, the wonderful new invention didn't finally find its true calling until the the late 1940's when Ralph finally managed to create the same product without the shitty green color and terrible odor. In 1949 he used this new formulation to create the famous clingy plastic wrap known as Saran Wrap that for so long kept all of our leftovers fresh. Now at the time there were many other plastic wraps on the market, but Saran Wrap, thanks to the formulation of PVDC, had a couple distinct advantages. One was the fact that it would stick to practically anything, but more importantly, it was also less permeable, meaning it let in less oxygen, therefore cutting down on food rot, and let out less food odor, meaning that saving some French Onion soup wouldn't stink up your entire refrigerator. The new product proved immensely popular, and it wasn't long before it could be found in every household in America.

Now right here is where the story could probably end, but that's not the end of the story. You see, Saran Wrap was invented at the height of what became known as the technocracy, a period in world history when it was widely believed that technology could be used to overcome every problem. It was a period of explosive discovery that lasted throughout the 1950's and 1960's where it seemed humankind would at last bend the chaos of the world to its will. Unfortunately, the world bit back with a vengeance, and it soon became apparent that many of the great advancements of the period had negative aspects when it came to the environment and health. Unfortunately, Saran Wrap fell into this category.

In 1998, Dow sold the right to manufacture Saran Wrap to the SC Johnson Company, the manufacturer of pretty much every household product you can think of. Unfortunately for SC Johnson, they quickly realized they had been sold a bit of a lemon when it came out that PVDC emitted a whole shit ton of toxic chemicals when it was burned or thrown away in landfills. Now usually in these types of stories this is the point where the company hires a bunch of marketing gurus and starts shredding memos to create plausible deniability. However, SC Johnson instead decided that yeah, releasing a shit ton of toxic chemicals just so people could keep their food fresh was kind of a dumb idea, and so abandoned the use of PVDC in favor of the less useful plastics used by their competitors which basically stick to nothing and are about as useful as leaving your leftovers uncovered in the fridge. Saran Wrap lost market share, SC Johnson lost money, and the world got to know that at least some corporations aren't just money grubbing bastards. Happy smiles and all, though I wouldn't feel too bad for SC Johnson. They also own Ziploc.