In 1879, Brooklyn papermaker Robert Gair developed a process for mass producing foldable cardboard boxes. One of the paper-folding machines in his factory malfunctioned and sliced through the paper, leading Gair to the realization that cutting, creasing, and folding in the same series of steps could transform a flat piece of cardboard into a box.
Gair’s invention made him a wealthy man and turned his company into an epicenter of manufacturing in Brooklyn. From Evan Osnos’ New Yorker article about Chinese paper tycoon Cheung Yan:
Gair’s box, a cheap, light alternative to wood, became “the swaddling clothes of our metropolitan civilization,” Lewis Mumford wrote. Eventually, the National Biscuit Compnay introduced its first crackers that stayed crispy in a sealed paper box, and an avalanche of manufacturers followed. Gair expanded to ten buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Massive migration from Europe to the United States created a manufacturing workforce in Brooklyn, to curn out ale, coffee, soap, and Brillo pads — and Gair made boxes right beside them.
Gair’s concentrated collection of buildings eventually led the area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to be called Gairville. That area is now known as Dumbo and, in addition to tons of residential space, the neighborhood is home not to manufacturing but to architecture firms, web companies, and other creative industries.
The Gair Company’s most iconic building was also its last: the Clocktower Building, also known as Gair Building No. 7. I tracked down several of the other Gair buildings and put them on this Google Map.
Can you help fill in the holes? Email me with additions/corrections and I’ll fill them in on the map. Thanks!
Update: I found a photo of some of the buildings that comprised Gairville on Google Books. The map has a couple of additions as well.