Robert E. Holden was granted a patent in 1965 for his invention that would later become known as the packing peanut. At some point later Mr. Holden sold that patent to the Dow Chemical company, and the rest, they say, is history.
I know I’ll be finding traces of this little-known inventor’s legacy for the rest of my days, because just like Christmas tree needles, packing peanuts show up for months — or even years — in the darnedest places.
My mother-in-law passed away recently, and after 92 years of a life well lived, many of her treasures needed to be shipped from Florida to relatives living in different corners of our country. I never gave any thought to the process of packing a six-foot bronze statue or multiple paintings several feet long and wide. Other than thinking how grateful I was to not have to pack them myself.
Four or five cardboard boxes were delivered to our home, and my wife, Betty, started opening some of the smaller ones, their contents protected by hundreds of packing peanuts. I tackled the massive one delivered to our living room, the one that held the sculpture my mother-in-law held so dear.
I tore a slit midway through the cardboard held together with packing tape and staples. At first the peanuts exited in a trickle, but as I expanded the opening I was soon knee-deep in polystyrene. By the time the sculpture was fully revealed—something called “Reading and Writing,” with alien beings right off the pages of a Ray Bradbury story—I almost needed a paddle to get to dry land.
How is it possible that packing peanuts defy gravity? I’m sure there’s a sound scientific explanation behind their propensity to stick to everything. Even when separated, they find a way to get sucked back together, like they’re magnetic or something.
But before any reader out there gets the urge to go all Bill Nye on me, please know I don’t care, and I wouldn’t understand even the dumbed-down version anyway.
Betty and I worked together to de-peanut the living room. She held open giant garbage bags while I used a small plastic snow shovel to scoop up those things spawned in a chemistry lab for the betterment of mankind. That system worked well, until the last four or five on the shovel decided to link together, and then through some kind of chemical bonding thing, took on the properties of glue.
When I finally managed to extract them from the shovel, they somehow teleported to my T-shirt. I picked them off one at a time from my chest, but had to use the sides of the garbage bag to scrape them off my fingers. I know there’s a new Twilight Zone episode somewhere in this experience.
Later that evening, I found a packing peanut in the upstairs bathroom cabinet, where we keep toilet paper. The next day I found another one in my car’s glove compartment.
Packing peanuts are out there, kicking butt and taking names. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.