Historic, but not famous

Robert Gair, cardboard box inventor

Robert Gair, a Scottish-born immigrant, invented the folding carton in 1890 in Brooklyn. He was a printer and paper bag maker in the 1870s. He invented the paperboard folding carton by accident: a metal ruler normally used to crease bags shifted in position and cut the bag. Gair found that by cutting and creasing paperboard in one operation, he could make prefabricated cartons. He ultimately got into the corrugated fiberboard shipping container business in the 1900s.


Before cardboard, he served in the Civil War and returned to NYC to open a paper factory on Reade Street in Manhattan. He moved to Brooklyn after his cardboard became popular and he needed more room and better shipping options via boat.

Around 1904, Gair met the engineers from the newly formed Turner Construction Company and saw possibilities in the use of concrete. The engineers persuaded Gair to adopt the new concrete system and eventually built 10 buildings in the area including the famous Clock Tower in DUMBO. Many buildings in the area still bear his name between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.  The old factories’ distinctive concrete facades have written in stone: ”Robert Gair Company,” ”Gair Bvilding No. 6,” ”Gair Building.”

In 1926, the Gair Company moved to Piermont, N.Y., in Rockland County, and the next year its Robert Gair died at age 88.  The Brooklyn Real Estate was handled by his son and offered as factory space to various companies.

All the Gair buildings are currently residential.

Please follow and like us:
Historic, but not famous

Arbuckle Brothers, coffee entrepreneurs

Brothers John and Charlie (died 1891) Arbuckle moved to Brooklyn in 1881 to become the greatest coffee roasters of their generation in the 1860s. By the early years of the 20th century, their operation in Dumbo received, stored, roasted and packaged more coffee than any other company in America. Arbuckle invented a machine that efficiently roasted, ground, and packaged coffee into small bags for mass distribution throughout the country. Prior to this innovation, coffee beans had to be sold unroasted from barrels and were easily spoiled. These beans burnt easily as they were roasted at home.

Their first national brand was patented under the name “Arbuckle Ariosa”. Ariosa was nicknamed the “cowboy’s coffee,” as it was the brand of choice for cowhands on the range.  The coffee was stored in the Empire Warehouses in Dumbo which is now a beautiful mall, office complex, and viewing platform. The Brothers patented a unique egg-and-sugar glaze that prolonged the freshness of their coffee beans as they were transported west. In 1887, Arbuckle launched a sugar refinery at 10 Jay Street when Havemeyer Sugar (refiners of Domino Sugar) refused to lower prices for their biggest customer. Havemeyer went into the coffee business in response. The war between the two companies was so fierce and pervasive that the price of both coffee and sugar was depressed for much of the battle. Everyone in both industries suffered for it. In the end, Havemeyer folded. They gave up the coffee business. Arbuckle continued to refine his sugar.

Arbuckle eventually built up much of the real estate along Jay Street in what is now the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. At the company’s height, in the ‘teens, Arbuckle Brothers occupied a dozen city blocks along the waterfront in Dumbo. Their business was completely self-contained — they didn’t outsource anything. The Arbuckle Brothers Company stayed in the family for at least two more generations. But by the 1930s, no doubt feeling the pinch of the Depression, the family began selling off the company. The only brand they held onto was Yuban (Yuletide Banquet) coffee brand. One by one, the Dumbo factories were closed and sold off. The sugar refinery operated until 1945, when it was sold as a whiskey warehouse. It later became a warehouse for Abraham & Straus.

By the 1940s, most of Arbuckle’s buildings in Brooklyn were being used by other businesses. Today, Yuban Coffee is now a cheaper grade of supermarket coffee. A new Arbuckles Coffee — hand roasted in Arizona, 100 percent organically grown and fair trade — is now available. This new company has revived the Ariosa label and markets their coffee based on a combination of the Old West legend and the new artisanal coffee craze.

Please follow and like us:
Around NYC

Rooftop Park in DUMBO

In DUMBO, a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn, there’s a new place from where to see great views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges: The Rooftop Park of the Empire Stores building.

In the 1850s, it was storage space and by the 1950s it was in ruins. It’s now a shopping center where the Brooklyn Historical Society recently opened a new gallery space.

Take the lift/elevator to the fifth floor and you’ll see both bridges and the Lower Manhattan skyline. Access is free!

Want to see the views from the rooftop park and explore this up and coming Brooklyn neighborhood? We Can Tour That! Reach out to us at: wecantourthat.com

Please follow and like us: