A Carrier for Easter Eggs: John G. Elbs' Crate Invention

Star Egg Carriers and Tray’s Egg Carton, c. 1906
Rochester, New York
Wood and jute board; 2 ¾ x 6 3/8 x 8 1/4 in.
32845A, B
Gift ofDr. & Mrs. Emory S. Moore
Many things are not made to be broken: paintings, sculptures, Bowers Museum’s rare artifacts from Oceania and Asia; these cultural objects demand proper handling techniques. Eggs on the other hand are disposable. We have all heard the age-old adage, “there is no use in crying over spilt eggs,” but Easter is the exception to this rule. It is the one time of year when eggs need to be meticulously handled to be delicately decorated, and afterwards become important works of spring art until their eventual entropic smells are potent enough to overwhelm their craftsmanship. But just over a century ago transporting eggs to one’s home without great losses took great precision. This year the Bowers recognizes Easter and egg decoration with the first patented carrier in the United States to allow for safe delivery of those ovoid canvases, Star Egg Carrier & Tray Manufacturing Company’s egg carton.
Top-down view of 32845B
The Star Egg Carrier & Tray Manufacturing Company was the thought child of John G. Elbs, an entrepreneur from Rochester, New York. Beginning his career transporting groceries, Elbs often lost entire deliveries when eggs cracked while travelling over pocked cobblestone streets in carriages with poor suspension. Prior to Elbs’ design eggs were moved loosely in open crates or baskets, as much a recipe for disaster as anything else. Elbs set about remedying this financial loss by designing a crate which prevented eggs from coming to harm. Patented in 1903, after many iterations his carrier was finished. The completed design relied on an entirely novel feature to safeguard the eggs: a jute board insert. Jute board is a fibrous and breathable wood pressed together from the bark of the jute tree, indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It is like cardboard in that it is a soft and springy material perfect for protecting eggs. The jute board not only lined the sides and bottom of the crate, but a second removable divider separated the carrier into twelve individual sections. The size of the compartments and a circular hole at the bottom of the case ensured each egg was secured snugly, preventing them from moving much in the same way modern egg cartons individually hold eggs. In conjunction with the hard-outer wooden shell, removable tray and lid were kept in place by the metal bar seen in at the top of the image to the left, the carrier was extremely hardy.
Side view of 32845A with patent information.
To advertise his design Elbs and his business partner held a demonstration in Rochester. His egg carrier was placed in the street with a full dozen fragile eggs held within. To test the carriers a horse-drawn carriage was driven over the case. To the audience’s surprise when the egg carrier was opened all of the eggs were all shown to be uncracked.
From this, Star Egg Carriers were readily adopted because of their ease of use, sturdiness and light weight. They became so popular that they spread across the entirety of the United States and even into Canada. In 1919 Elbs advertised that his carton was used by 70% of all retail grocers in the United States and Canada, but it’s estimated that the actual percentage may have been as high as 75%.

 
John G. Elbs’ advertisement from the Book of Industrial Rochester, a
collection of advertisements from the captains of Rochester’s industries.
This year when decorating eggs take a moment to think about John Elbs’ miraculous design, a reason we can so easily celebrate Easter the way we do. Though it may not be an exciting and fun-colored subject, if it is not too much, paint one for Rochester, New York’s most famous egg-trepreneur.

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Monday, 30 March 2020

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