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The Unseen History of DUMBO's Cardboard Box Factory

Let me take you on a journey, one that begins with the most mundane, most overlooked item in your everyday life: the cardboard box.

cardboard boxes outside on the street

You can hear more Brooklyn stories with Gesso’s self-guided New York audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

This humble contraption, largely taken for granted in our world of instant deliveries and moving day headaches, was once the seed of a revolution in manufacturing. And the heart of that revolution was right here, in the industrial arteries of DUMBO, Brooklyn.

In this bustling neighborhood, a symbol of Brooklyn's unique blend of the old and the new, we find the roots of an industrial titan - the first factory of Robert Gair, a Scottish-born immigrant and Civil War veteran. Gair, already a successful manufacturer of paper bags in Manhattan, found inspiration in a factory mistake, which sparked an idea for a new machine: one that could both cut and fold layers of paper in a single process.

The product of this mechanized brilliance was the world's first easily foldable corrugated cardboard box. While seemingly mundane to our modern sensibilities, it was nothing short of a revolution at the time, transforming shipping practices and causing Gair's business to skyrocket.

By the late 1880s, Gair found himself outgrowing his Tribeca roots and seeking a location with better shipping access. He settled here, in this neighborhood that would later be known as DUMBO, but was then, quite appropriately, Gairville. The legacy of Robert Gair lives on in the grand architecture of DUMBO, his name gracing several prominent buildings that were once integral parts of his booming business.

Many more Brooklyn stories and New York City tours await. Discover more local history with our New York audio walking tours, and see which nearby New York City neighborhoods you want to explore next!


Gesso was created for urban explorers who find joy in life's hidden gems. Find audio tours on the Gesso app, available via the App Store or Google Play, and share your New York City adventures with us on Instagram.


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