Pulp Magic

MARCH 2, 2015

Behold the Humble Pizza Box

Art can dignify even the most humble materials. Legend has it that the Renaissance artist Raphael painted his famous Madonna della Seggiola on the round bottom of a wine barrel because he lacked a proper canvas. The modern equivalent to that barrel top may be the pizza box.

CBS Sunday Morning recently reported on a man in New York City who collects pizza boxes for their art and designs on their covers. The art is surprisingly diverse. He has about 750 boxes from 50 countries and is even set to publish a book on his extensive collection.

The classic pizza box usually includes a self-satisfied, mustache-twirling chef of vaguely Italian heritage on the cover. According to some, the Italian chef image is based on a hand painted advertisement on the roof of a drive-in restaurant in Rochester, NY, although that claim seems to be contested by other pizza box art historians.

In the post-war 1950s when pizza began gaining popularity across America as a takeaway meal, pizza makers used paperboard bakery boxes as improvised delivery packaging. Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza is credited with the first use of corrugated cardboard for pizza boxes to ensure that his pizzas were warm and uncrushed when they arrived.

In his autobiography, Monaghan describes working with Triad Containers of Detroit, Michigan to create a cardboard box that could be scored properly for folding while remaining strong enough to hold its form and protect its contents.

There are about 65,000 pizza restaurants in the U.S., and the average American eats 46 slices a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The market leader in manufacturing pizza boxes is Rock-Tenn of Norcross, Georgia. Rock-Tenn makes about half of all the pizza boxes used in America, churning out about three million printed boxes per day at 17 plants, — six of those plants produce nothing but pizza boxes. And each of them has some sort of image printed on them.

Apparently, the expanse of cardboard on a pizza box has the same irresistible draw to would-be artists as that barrel top once had on Raphael.

You can see the CBS News report here: on YouTube

Photo credit: CBS NEWS