Geek Trivia

The Ubiquitous Chinese Food Takeout Container Was Actually Invented To Hold?

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Answer: Oysters

Across North America there is a food container so ubiquitous that even showing a roughly sketched outline of it immediately calls to mind its contents: the trapezoidal waxed paper container used by tens of thousands of Chinese restaurants.

Although the sturdy little containers have become inescapably associated with Chinese and other Asian-themed restaurants, the container is not only not Asian in origin (it was invented in the United States), but it was not even created to hold Chinese food.

The container design was originally created in the 1890s by Frederick Weeks Wilcox. His design echoes the shape of a pail, complete with a wire handle, specifically because he designed the container to serve as a cheap and mass produced substitute for wooden oyster pails. At the time of its invention, the paper container was intended to help consumers get abundant oysters home from the market and the waterproofed wax-paper container helped them do so. (Modern seafood lovers can only dream of oysters so cheap and abundant that you could take them home, already shucked, by the pail full.)

It wasn’t until after World War II when the rise of American take-out restaurants began transforming the “oyster pail” container into the “Chinese takeout” container when it was widely adopted by takeout places across the country. Decades on the container has lost its association with the oyster industry and is now a universally recognized symbol of takeout food.

Image courtesy of dlsrninja.