What time is it? Picnic time! Let's make a checklist of all the things we'll need. Picnic basket? Check. Blanket? Check. Snacks? Check. Hmmm. It seems like we're forgetting something. What could it be? That's right! Paper plates!

When you're heading to the park to nosh on sandwiches and chips, you definitely don't want to bring your fine china with you from home. You also don't want to set your food in your lap. That's when the handy-dandy paper plate comes to the rescue.

Modern paper plates are lightweight, yet sturdy. They'll hold your sandwiches and chips and fruit and pretty much anything else you want to put on them. When you're done, there's no need to wash them. Just pitch them into the trash or recycling bin with the rest of your disposables and your clean-up is finished!

Paper plates are so useful. You might think that they've been around a long time. And they have. But exactly how long depends upon how you define “long." People have always needed to eat and paper has been around for thousands of years. But paper plates? They've only been around a bit over 100 years!

The person generally credited with the invention of the paper plate is Martin Keyes. In the late 19th century, Keyes is believed to have witnessed workers at a veneer plant in New York eating their lunches on thin waste pieces of maple veneer. These workers' ingenuity inspired Keyes to start thinking about disposable dishware.

Over the next two years, Keyes would work hard to develop new machines that would mash wood pulp and mold it into paper plates. Once he had finished his machine, he tried to patent it, but he discovered that someone else had stolen his idea. Using his daily diary as proof, Keyes successfully fought the issue in court and was eventually awarded the patent for his paper plate machine.

With the help of family members and other investors, Keyes formed the Keyes Fibre Company and began producing paper plates in 1904. Soon, other competitors entered the market, making cheaper paper plates to compete with those made by Keyes. Keyes maintained a high-quality product, however, and his sales got a boost from an unfortunate tragedy: the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 created a huge demand for paper plates.

Today, paper plates can be found in the kitchens of most households. Their convenience is unparalleled and they're usually not very expensive. While most paper plates are plain white, they can also be found in a variety of colors, sizes, and designs. Some paper plates are even shaped like the heads of animals, with small ear “cups" to hold condiments!

In addition to plates made from plant fibers (wood pulp), disposable plates can also be made from other materials. A walk down the paper products aisle of your local supermarket will reveal disposable plates made from plastic and Styrofoam, too.

In addition to eating a meal from them, you can also use paper plates for a variety of other things. Most kids know that they're great for making crafts. Some teachers also know that small paper plates can make great flash cards, too!

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow's Wonder of the Day features an animal that always looks sharp!