VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Jesse Davenport turned 90 on Oct. 5, and to help celebrate his birthday his family threw him a party that included a cake made to look like an 18-count egg carton. This may sound strange to most, but for Davenport, it was an appropriate design.
Davenport was one of the founders of Vicksburg-based Foam Packaging and, during his time there, he used his skills as a tool and die maker to design a mold that was used to produce the first 18-count Polystyrene egg carton in the nation.
Davenport, along with his business partner Ray English, started the company in 1971 after spending a year sending out surveys to those in the egg business. The purpose of the extensive research, Davenport said, was to find out if they were having any problems shipping their product.
After learning there were some issues with logistics, Davenport said, “We felt like there was a market for it,” (producing foam egg cartons). With a group of inial investors, Foam Packaging was started.
Initially, the company made 12-count Polystyrene egg cartons and later expanded into producing cafeteria trays.
“Then along the way, I made the first 18-count egg cartons,” Davenport said.
The idea to develop an 18-count Polystyrene egg carton was instigated by Weems Gilbert Egg Farm, one of Foam Packaging’s customers.
The egg farm was looking for a cheaper way to package their product to those who wanted 18 eggs.
And, with an 18-count carton, the product would be able to save the egg farm $100 per 1,000 cartons purchased, Davenport said.
“I felt like that would be a sure bet so we made a set of molds to develop the egg cartons and made sure it was something we could put our name on,” Davenport said.
Davenport recalled the development and beginning production of the 18-count carton was from 1978 to 1982.
“Now Debra can’t make enough 18-egg cartons because we have so many people buying them,” Davenport said of his oldest daughter,
Debra Davenport Issac, who now owns her father’s share of the company. Davenport retired in 2012.
When asked how many 18-count egg cartons he thought Foam Packaging had made during his tenure at the company, Davenport said,
“We made six egg cartons, times 20 cycles a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there was a period of seven consecutive years that I worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week with three Christmases off.
“If you are in the plastics business,” Davenport said, “It’s 24/7; that is especially true for our type of operation.”
Through the years, Foam Packaging’s 18-count egg cartons have not only been sold in the U.S., they have also shipped egg cartons to Africa, Mexico and Honduras.
“What happened in Africa — the oil industry was drilling out there and one of their people that they were drilling on, their property had chickens, and since they knew me and knew we were making egg cartons, they did them a courtesy and shipped them egg cartons every so often. That’s how they got to Africa,” he said.
Davenport now lives in Port Gibson. Prior to helping found Foam Packaging, he spent 17 ½ years with Wesnghouse and three years with Letourneau.
He is the father of four children, Issac (Tom), Florence Davenport Cuneo (Bryan), Margaret Davenport Bateman (Blane), Bryan Davenport III and one grandson, Richard Bateman.