370 James St.- Home of the National Box Company and Starter, Inc.

370 James St. is a modern office building that sits at the corner of James and Humphrey Streets. The fairly non-descript building dates back to 1914. It was initially used as an expansion of the National Box Folding Company campus, which at the time was the premier cardboard box company in the United States. Years later the building became home to another world-famous manufacturer, Starter, Inc. a sportswear company.

The National Box Folding Company started in New York City in the early 1890s as a conglomerate of smaller folding box companies. The new company opened branches up throughout Connecticut, eventually setting on New Haven in 1905 as the center of business and production. National bought an entire block, choosing the location on the Mill River based on the strength of being the gateway to New England and beyond, through easy access to shipping and the rail lines and a ready supply of eager workers in the rapidly expanding surrounding immigrant neighborhoods. The corner of Humphrey and James Streets was adjacent to the New York, New Haven and Hartford lines, and was still considered part of the Cedar Hill neighborhood, which in the 1910s became home to the largest freight rail yards east of the Mississippi River.

By 1927, National was the largest and most prestigious folding box company in the world. The hunch that the company’s founders had had 30 years before paid off. They had believed that with a growth in urban standardized wages and jobs, people had less time to make or package their own products and perishables. The increased strength of the market meant they would spend more on things that previous generations would have either not needed, had access to, or made themselves. Basically, much like today with the boom in online shopping and the ubiquitous Amazon boxes seen everywhere, for the first time everything needed a cardboard box or package of its own.

National made packaging for small and large clients. Budweiser, Hershey’s, General Electric and practically every brand of cigarette’s packaging was produced at the James St. complex. National not only produced the packaging for Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars, they helped start Peter Paul, the candy company that created them as an outside investment.         

Generations of local workers found jobs at National. The company paid very well, invested in training and education of their staff and overall considered workers to be part of a large family. A job at National could easily provide for a middle-class lifestyle in the first half of the 20th century.

In the 1950s, with competition from new and cheaper paper mills in the South, National declined. They were bought by Federal Paper Board in 1953 and ran until 1974 when the plant closed. 2 years later a different type of world leading company based at 370 James St. began its meteoric rise, the Starter sportswear company.

Starter began in 1971. Started by Hamden Hall coach David Beckerman, Starter was named as an inspiration. The idea being with Starter sports gear you are always off the bench and on the starting team. Beckerman saw the opportunity of officially licensed team apparel for both players and fans. Today that’s common place but in 1976 when Starter got its first license from Major League Baseball it was revolutionary. Starter was one of the first companies to bridge the gap between the players and the fans. Anyone could wear the same gear that their favorite players wore. Along with rise in player endorsed sneakers like Nike’s Air Jordan’s in the 1980s, everything changed for sports marketing based on Starter’s innovations.

Starter also understood the idea of having an iconic logo. Their “S” became a defining status symbol in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Starter’s growth and the rise of hip-hop culture went hand in hand. By 1993 both had crossed over into the American mainstream, with Starter products not just seen on the courts or playing fields, but also featured prominently on album covers, music videos, movies and hit television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Starter became a publicly traded corporation in 1993 at the height of its popularity. In 1994, the MLB player’s strike along with expensive product costs, and increasingly negative press of crimes related to robberies of the status symbol jackets and hats, contributed to Starter’s decline. In 1999, Starter declared bankruptcy eventually leaving its home at 370 James St.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo-Archives

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