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Toying Outside the Box

The cardboard box, that unadorned, well-traveled, and oft-abused necessity, is finally getting its due. This month, it assumes its rightful place in the National Toy Hall of Fame alongside such classics as Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, and Legos. Frankly, the only thing that surprised me about the news was that the box wasn’t already in the Hall.

The cardboard box, that unadorned, well-traveled, and oft-abused necessity, is finally getting its due. This month, it assumes its rightful place in the National Toy Hall of Fame alongside such classics as Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, and Legos. Frankly, the only thing that surprised me about the news was that the box wasn’t already in the Hall. Unlike fellow inductees Jack-in-the-Box and Candy Land, it’s almost limitless as a source of entertainment, as any kid (or cat, for that matter) is more than happy to demonstrate.

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I remember turning the box that my family’s new TV came in into a school bus, a rather impressive robot costume, and oddly enough, a make-believe TV (what other toy lets you create your very own network?). Aside from being the perfect blank canvas, it was sturdy enough to endure its many roles in the backyard, basement and tree house before being replaced a couple of weeks later by a fresh new box. For that we can thank Robert Gair, a printer from Brooklyn, who invented the corrugated cardboard version in 1890. It took the delivery business by storm. And when it arrived in our homes, it gave us somewhere to play and, well, think outside the box.

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About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug

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