If you're one of the seven billion humans on this planet who enjoys getting pizza delivered to your door, you have a piece of plastic to thank. A piece of plastic? Yes, that circular plastic thing that goes in the middle of a pie to prevent the pizza from sticking to the top of the pizza box. It's called a pizza saver. And it was invented 30 years ago on February 10, 1983, when Carmela Vitale got her patent issued for that piece of plastic.
That tiny little plastic invention has saved humanity from eating smushed and stripped pizza that has half of its cheese ripped off because the pizza got stuck to the cardboard top of the pizza box. Can you imagine eating that type of pizza? Hell, could we even call that pizza anymore? Without the pizza saver, delivery pizza as we know it would look more like blood and guts shmeared onto a giant bread thing. Does that sound appetising to you? In the power ranking of necessary ingredients to a good pizza delivery, the pizza saver is probably right after cheese and before any topping.
You see, because pizza boxes are typically made from corrugated cardboard boxes that are stiffer than most typical take out containers and are relatively decent at keeping food warm (as the corrugation process adds a sort of air space insulation layer), it has one design flaw: when a hot pizza gets placed inside the box, the top centre of the pizza box starts to sag and droop because of the steam. The longer the pizza is in the box, the steamier it gets inside the pizza box and the softer that top middle centre of the box gets. You see where this is going. The top of the box sinks and attaches itself to the pizza, flaying the cheese and excising the toppings upon the box's opening. It's messy. It's sad. It sucks.
Enter the pizza saving genius known as Carmela Vitale from Dix Hills, NY. She filed her patent (#4,498,586) on February 10, 1983 and got it issued on February 12, 1985. In her patent, Vitale detailed the "package saver" (a terrible name for her invention as no one gives a crap about the package, it was the pizza that needed saving), which was a tiny tripod that provided support to the sagging pizza box. It would be placed in the middle of the pie to maintain the structural integrity of the box:
Vitale expressed the need for her pizza saver in the patent application saying that, "there is a tendency of the covers to sag or to be easily depressed at their centre portions so that they may damage or mark the pies or cakes during storage or delivery" and that it was necessary to create "a lightweight and inexpensive device" that was made from "one of the plastics which is heat resistant" (she suggested thermo set plastic).
In its preferred form, as illustrated, the saver (1) has spaced vertical legs (2) connected to a cover support (3). The lower portions of the legs (4) have a minimal cross section to minimize any marking of to the protected article (5) and they are also made thin for minimising the volume of plastic required. The cover support (3) of the saver (1) also preferably has a minimum volume by consisting of a spoke-like arrangement of radially oriented leg supports (6) moulded to extend from a central portion (7).
Basically, the tripod look was created to keep the footprint of the pizza saver small which kept the damage to the pizza minimal while also being rock solid in preventing exorcised pizzas. Three dimples on your pizza is much better than splattered guts everywhere. Eventually the pizza saver evolved into a more circular shape with a larger surface area as cutting the support spokes of the original design required nearly the same amount of plastic as the circular pizza saver we know today.
So next time you order pizza, remember the thankless grunt work that the pizza saver does every time to make sure your pizza arrives in good shape. It's basically every pizza's guardian angel. [About.com, Wikipedia]