Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Chinese Takeout Box, a Chicago Invention by Frederick Weeks Wilcox in 1890.

Influenced by Japanese origami, the Paper Pail, aka Oyster Pail, was patented by Frederick W. Wilcox and William D. Moshier on April 29, l890. Patent No. 426698.

The box is made from a single piece of wax paper, creased into segments, and folded into a 'leakproof' container secured with a wire handle to carry it on the top. The supportive folds on the outside, fastened with that same wire, created a flat interior surface over which food could slide smoothly onto a plate.
How to Eat Chinese Takeout.
A must-watch CBS Sunday Morning Show. [2:52]

Wilcox's paper box seems to have advanced existing "oyster pail" technology. The oyster pail, as described by Ernest Ingersoll in his 1880 book: "The Oyster Industry used a wooden receptacle with a locked cover which was used in transporting raw oysters." 

The paper pail and the American-Chinese food and restaurant industries perfectly matched. "It's nearly leakproof, and it's disposable, and they're really inexpensive," says Michael Prince, who redesigned the Box O' Joe Coffee carton for Dunkin' Donuts. "Origami can make really cool transport devices."

In the 1970s, a graphic designer (whose name, sadly, has been lost to history) working at the company today known as Fold-Pak put a pagoda on the side of the box and a stylized "Thank you" on top. Both were printed in red, symbolizing good fortune in China.
The Paradox: "The structure has come to represent the idea of Eastern cuisine in Western society even though this packaging is not used in China," says Scott Chapps, packaging designer for Help Remedies. Or, as David Federico, marketing manager for Fold-Pak, put it, "We don't sell them in China."

Today, Fold-Pak makes oyster pails in much the same way Wilcox suggested, albeit using a solid-bleached-sulfate paperboard with a poly-coating on the inside for more grease-and-leak resistance. The company has also adjusted for modern-day behaviors. They offer microwave-safe Chinese food cartons that use glue instead of wire and non-dyed, environmentally friendly containers. 

It's a growing market, Federico says. But the traditional takeout container seems immune from extinction. "In America, if you just drew an icon of a box, people would understand exactly what it is," Prince said. "That's a lot of power."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

New Englanders settled in Chicago, bringing with them a taste for oysters. Chicago had become a huge oyster town, with large multilevel structures housing oyster wholesalers and oyster houses. These houses would have a dance hall, lunchroom, formal dining, and taprooms in one massive building. 

Delivered by sleigh from New Haven, Connecticut, the first fresh oysters in Chicago were served in 1838 at the Lake House Hotel on Kinzie Street. The Lake House Hotel establishment was our city's first foray into (5-Star) fine dining and offered these East Coast imports to their well-heeled clientele. It was the first restaurant to use white tablecloths, napkins, menu cards, and toothpicks. 

This spurred Chicago's earliest love affair with the oyster. By 1857, there were seven "Oyster Depots" and four "Oyster Saloons" in the city. Chicago's population in 1860 was 109,000. Peaking in the Gilded Age of the 1890s, with a population of 1,001,000 in 1890 and waning with Prohibition, oyster consumption was plentiful in old Chicago. Believe it or not, Ice cream parlors also served oysters because they had all that ice.

I've been asked several times; "How can fresh oysters, from the East Coast, get to Chicago in 1835, and still called fresh?"

Oysters were kept alive on ice, at all times, during transport and delivered to storage and Oyster houses. 
In the 1890s, express-service refrigerated train cars shipped oysters and other perishable foods around the country. The cars did not come into general use until the turn of the 20th century.

Consuming dead oysters will cause food poisoning due to the release of harmful bacteria and toxins. Eating too many dead oysters can quickly become severe and may result in death. 

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