The Museum of Modern Art’s temporary move from Midtown to the former Swingline staple factory in Queens binds the venerable arts institution to New York’s immigrant history. Swingline’s founder, Jack Linsky, came to America from Russia as a boy and within three decades had revolutionized office work. Today, Jack and his Kiev-born wife, Belle, are remembered as much for their "stationery business" as they are for contributions to myriad New York City institutions.
The son of a fabric peddler, Jack started his career at 14 running deliveries for a stationery supply house. Three years later, he was running his own wholesale business on the Lower East Side. When his German suppliers failed to take up his suggestions for streamlining staplers, he started selling products of his own design: open-channel loading staplers and staple strips held together with glue. (Previously, staples were loaded one at a time.)
Founded in 1925, Linsky’s company was an immediate success. For decades Swingline headquarters stood as a beacon in the Queens skyline, its stapler-shaped sign flashing "Easy Loading" in red and white neon. Swingline (a name Belle, the company’s treasurer, devised) eventually sold to American Brands in 1970 for $210 million.
In 1997, the factory began moving its operations to Mexico more than 60 years of banging out staples in Long Island City. MoMA purchased the 160,000-square-foot facility to house its collections and exhibitions until renovations at its West 53rd Street home are completed in 2005. June 29 marks the opening of three inaugural exhibitions at MoMA-QNS, as the new quarters are called.
The Linskys themselves were renowned art collectors, setting several records at auction. They also shared their fortune with their adopted home. Major donors to the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, in 1965 the Linskys endowed the 12-story circular pavilion at Beth Israel Medical Center for $1 million.
"I love this city and I owe it a debt," Belle said in 1982, two years after Jack’s death, when she bequeathed their collection of Old Masters, 18th-century French furniture, porcelains, bronzes and Renaissance jewelry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many of the works are on view in the museum’s 2,890-square-foot Jack and Belle Linsky Galleries.
In his 2000 book, "The Selling of Free Trade," Harper’s magazine publisher John R. MacArthur wrote: "To stand in the Linsky Galleries today and gaze upon their seventeenth-century ewer: a small pitcher of smoky crystal covered in a riot of gold and diamonds … is to stand in awe of the ingenuity of American capitalism. Staples into gold."