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Monthly Event Highlights: Tension Envelopes
April 1 - April 30
Ever heard of Tension Envelopes? I know some have but for those who haven’t, here goes.
The iconic Tension Envelope sign at 819 E 19th has been part of the Urban Core landscape for 62 years. In 1886, the William Berkowitz family came to Kansas City to start Berkowitz Envelope Manufacturing Company. In 1914, they moved from 20th and Tracy and took the 5th floor of what was then the Monkey Wards (Montgomery Wards) bldg. at 819 E 19th.
Kansas City was and still is a rail hub for the nation. The Berkowitz family needed the rail system to take their envelopes all of the United States and Kansas City again was their choice, like so many of the early companies did. Their 19th Street location backed up the main track system. The train could pull right into the building to dump coal into a chute that lead to the furnaces that heated the bldg. The Berkowitz family could load other cars with their products for shipment everywhere. In 1930 KCP&L bought the bldg. from Wards and in 1959 sold it to Tension Envelopes. In 1941, the Berkowitz family changed their name to Berkley and in 1944 consolidated and their company names to Tension Envelopes.
Ever wonder where that name Tension Envelope came from? Well for some of us who’ll remember the backs of larger envelopes had two spools with a string attached to one spool. After placing the contents into the envelope you would wrap the string around both spools thus sealing the back. Until the early 20th century, the US Postal Service didn’t allow third and fourth class mail to be sealed. This method became the standard for mailing most manila envelopes well into the 20th Century.
The Berkowitz/Berkley family knew early on that Kansas City was the place to be if you needed to ship to all points of the country economically. I believe that decision to move to KC has been a common thread in these Urban Core articles. Today those same decisions are being made by the likes of Amazon and BNSF Intermodal.
Most or maybe all of the membership remembers Richard Berkley/Berkowitz as our 50th mayor from 1979 to 1991. Mayor Berkley still lives in the KC area and was recently seen having dinner in Brookside with Jerry Fogel, actor and huge KCMO promotor. We will continue to single out companies and their founders who decided to make KC and the urban core their home. The next time, we’ll focus on a more recent Urban Core business.
All the best,
Artist, Writer, Consummate Networker, & board member of KC’s Urban Core Group
More information can be found at Tension Corporation: A History of Ingenuity By Karen Loggia,
plus additional history at The History of Tension Corporation: How Tension Got Its Name.