You’re shipping a valuable product to a customer across the country, but you’re concerned about how its packaging will stand up to the everyday wear and tear of transportation. What do you do?
In 1920, you might have handed your package to these gentlemen below, who in five short minutes would put your precious cargo through the shaking, smashing, bashing and breakage it would suffer in a 2,000-mile journey on the nation’s railroads. All using the incredible giant Wheel o’ Damage.
The Container Club of Chicago, an association of “corrugated and solid fibre box manufacturers,” didn’t actually call their simulator the Giant Wheel o’ Damage, but they should have.
The “drum box testing machine” was designed by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture established in 1910, and installed at the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research, now the Carnegie Institute of Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s a 1920 photo of the beast.
The drum tester was an improvement over an earlier damage simulator used by the Mellon Institute, according to an April 17, 1920 report in The Traffic World, as it did away with the inconvenience of “overhead pulleys and shafting.” The simulator’s motor limited drum speed to 2 rpm.
In a Feb. 5. 1921 advertisement, the Container Club of Chicago urged shippers to “send a case of your product on this trip. Give it the jars, bumps and knocks it encounters from draymen, freight handlers, rough riding freight cars, the shock of quick stopping of heavy equipment, etc. In five minutes a haul of 2,000 miles is actually simulated by means of a large, hollow revolving drum on the inside of which are scientifically constructed hazards to give the case the severe test it would get in actual transit.”
The goal was to reduce damage to packages that could lead to costly claims. “A valuable field of investigation is opened up by the new machine, such as best methods of interior and exterior packing for fragile or irregular shaped objects; the determination of proper specifications for containers carrying various commodities, etc.,” according to the April 1920 article from The Traffic World.
Box or package testing was offered as a free service to shippers by the Container Club and the Mellon Institute. “Your shipping problems can be solved,” the club promised in its advertisement. No word, however, on whether they shipped back whatever was left of the box and its contents after a tumble in the drum.
What happened to the drum tester? That tale may truly be lost — if you have any information please let us know. In any case, the design and testing of packaging is as important today as 90 years ago — especially as packaging becomes smaller to reduce its effect on the environment and the amount of “air” being shipped.