Packaging the Past
A hundred years ago, the Marvil Packaging Company was producing as many as 35,000 baskets and other containers every single day. It took a worker in the company’s Laurel, Delaware, factory only half a minute to make a strawberry basket and two minutes to make a peach basket. This production enabled farmers to ship produce (including Delaware’s most prominent crop of the day) by railroad to distant markets, transforming American agriculture, commerce, and eating. Today, our produce arrives at the market in crates and bins and covered in plastic wrap. In 1900, it more than likely arrived in a Marvil basket.
But of all the baskets Marvil produced, including ones with innovative designs patented by owner J. H. Marvil, very few survive today. The baskets were among the first disposable packaging, after all, and were re-used until the thin wood splints gave out, when they were burned or thrown away.
This makes the early-twentieth-century Marvil basket on display at the Laurel Historical Society especially interesting. It testifies to the innovation of one Delawarean, the manufacturing skill of hundreds of his workers, and the labor of thousands of rural American farmers, shippers, and vendors.
At the Laurel Historical Society’s two locations, you can consider this story as well as others that connect local history with broader global events. The Waller Photographic Collection documents the artistry and curiosity of two generations of Lauren photographers. Another unique collection that arrived just a few years ago comprises dozens of artworks painted by Laurel schoolchildren between 1938 and 1946.
All of these objects remind us that big events have humble origins, and that history has ramifications that echo even in small towns like Laurel.
Visit the Laurel Historical Society
Location: 215 Mechanic St., Laurel, DE 19956 (Laurel Heritage Museum) and 502 E. 4th Street, Laurel, DE 19956 (Cook House Museum).
Phone: (302) 875-1344
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8AM-12PM (Heritage Museum), by appointment (Cook House).