Did You Know the Cardboard Box Was an Accident That Grew Into a Brooklyn Empire?

55 Washington Street. Photo via the Etsy Blog


Everything ends up here eventually, but Made in Brooklyn is a column exploring native, born-and-bred borough creations.

The cardboard box may not seem innovative in 2016, but in 1879 it was ahead of its time — and initially conceived as an accident, on the watch of one of Dumbo’s early business leaders and developers.

At the tender age of 14, Robert Gair moved from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Brooklyn, where he would eventually become a pioneer in the cutting-edge paper-goods industry and the early-20th-century development of Dumbo

Gair began his entrepreneurial ventures in 1867, making square-bottomed paper bags and other paper goods, many of which were created on self-made machinery at his Tribeca space.

But one of his greatest inventions was born in 1879 due to a worker error, when a pressman sliced through some 20,000 seed bags. Instead of inciting rage, the accident helped Gair visualize a more efficient, prefabricated method of box creation.

That year Gair took out a patent for a machine that created folded boxes, a revolutionary invention for both the packaging and food industries. And while it may have been invented in Manhattan, the business flourished upon its move to Brooklyn.

In 1888 Gair moved operations to Dumbo, a neighborhood where his buddy, coffee kingpin John Arbuckle, had also recently relocated. In addition to operating out of the neighborhood, Gair increasingly became a stakeholder in area real estate, leasing and occupying numerous area warehouses.

Robert Gair Dumbo Buildings

Robert Gair. Photo via Governor Dumbo

By the time Gair died in 1927, his business, the Gair Company, had moved its manufacturing operations to Piermont, New York, with Dumbo-based operations mainly focusing on the leasing of his many area properties. There were so many properties that the company heralded the neighborhood as “Gairville.”

Today, one of Gair’s numerous Dumbo buildings, 55 Washington Street, is home to yet another innovative business: Etsy.

Robert Gair Dumbo Buildings 55 Washington St

55 Washington Street. Photo by Scott Bintner for PropertyShark

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