While that might have worked for the streets of Naples -- or other dense cities -- it wasn't going to work for the delivery business. There were two solutions to the problem for the exploding post-war American pizza market. First, there were regular old boxes, but those had a major defect. The moisture from the pizza would make the box all floppy. Oil could end up seeping easily through the bottom, too. Second, as described by Scott Weiner, who I would say is the undisputed expert on pizza mobility solutions, you could *bag* the pizza.
"In the 1940's, lots of pizza purveyors offered take-out pies," Weiner writes. "The pizza
would sit on a stiff corrugated base, which could slide snugly into a
large paper bag."
The bag, while it kept heat in and allowed some moisture to escape, provided no protection for the pizza's face. They worked OK for take-out, but what about delivery? It's hard to transport more than one pie in a bag.
In the traditional story of the pizza box, Tom Monaghan's pizza empire, Domino's, developed the corrugated box in the early 1960s, marking a major advance in pizza technology. These wonder boxes could be stacked. They had vents. All around, the flatpacked, foldable corrugated pizza box was one of those small inventions that seem almost inevitable after someone comes up with it.
What's fascinating is that many, many people were trying. Teasing apart all the strands of the patent literature on the point of paper products for transporting food is nearly impossible nowadays. Domino's held no patents on their box, as far as I can tell, and there were dozens of other people who had solutions for packaging pizzas that were very similar to the ones we use now. (Oddly, bacon package design seems to have been top of mind for pizza box designers. Not sure why, but I understand it.) Advances in paper production and market demand for disposable food containers combined to send lots of inventors charging into the box space.
Whoever or however the standard corrugated pizza box came into being, it is the event around which pizza packaging history revolves, moving from Before Corrugation to After Domino's. Most pizza places still use this fifty-year-old technology in one form or another.
But that's not to say that there hasn't been any innovation in the pizza box space. FAR FROM IT!
Inside most pizza boxes now, right in the center of the container, you'll find a plastic tripod often shaped like a mid-century modern table. It holds up the center of the pizza box to avoid cardboard smashing down on the cheese on the top of the pizza. Petroski has a hilarious discussion of how much people like these things in his book, Small Things Considered. A caller to a radio program starts things off by gushing over them.
"The engineer confessed to having saved some of the humble devices as examples of clever functional design that he thought he might write about some day," Petroski writes. "No one called in to ask for a better description of the throwaway thing, or to offer its name. But such identifications were not needed for it to be recognized, admired for its ingenuity, and appreciated for its purpose."