Tension Corp has a long history, and over the years has adapted to meet customers’ needs and expanded into new markets.
In fact, through most of Tension’s history it has continued to diversify and grow. It all began with Berkowitz & Company Printers, the forerunner of Tension, which was founded on March 17, 1886 in Kansas City, MO by William J Berkowitz. Berkowitz moved to Kansas City from Pennsylvania several years earlier. At that point, the company specialized in popular advertising novelties and business stationery.
“The company’s first manufacturing patent was issued for a shirt-packaging envelope made on custom-designed equipment,” says Tension President and CEO Bill Berkley, a fourth-generation descendant from the founder. “William J Berkowitz believed that we best serve customers by understanding their needs, and providing solutions and innovation; we continue that philosophy and practice today.”
The company began to manufacture envelopes in 1890, which immediately proved profitable, and it only grew from there.
Although other printers existed in Kansas City, Berkowitz & Company appeared to be the only one making envelopes, according to Karen Loggia, director of marketing at Tension. In 1894, the company brought the first envelope-folding machine as far west as Kansas City. And in about 1896, the envelope business had grown so rapidly that Berkowitz & Company gradually withdrew from the general printing business to concentrate on the production of envelopes. By 1901, the company focused solely on manufacturing envelopes and changed its name to Berkowitz Envelope Company.
The name “Tension” stems from the string-and-button closure that is typically found on interoffice envelopes. Tension owned the patent on this envelope and, in 1944, the company rebranded from Berkowitz Envelope Company to “Tension Envelope” to build on the envelope’s popularity.
The iconic envelope, originally named the “Tension Tie,” holds contents “under Tension.” It was developed in the early 1900s for third and fourth class mail which, at that time, could not be sealed when placed in the mail.
In 2000, Tension expanded into the packaging and pharmacy automation market. The packaging and automation division designs, engineers and integrates automation solutions for order fulfillment centers and central fill, mail order and specialty pharmacies. In addition, the company offers software, packaging materials, service and support.
Tension had been creating envelopes for the growing internet retail business. Drawing on its roots as an early adopter and influencer in the envelope machinery industry, as well as its engineering center of excellence, Tension soon began to develop a broad array of machines which package and sort customer orders.
“It was a natural extension of Tension’s business of supplying envelope products to provide the automated machinery for Tension’s customers who were packaging orders for delivery—as well as the packaging materials that go through the equipment,” says Berkley.
In 2011, Tension rebranded itself from Tension Envelope Corporation to Tension Corporation, reflecting its expanding presence in packaging and automation, as well as its increasing footprint in international operations.
In 2019, Tension acquired Motion Envelope. “Acquiring Motion Envelope allowed us to expand our offerings to better meet the growing needs of our customers. These include more specialty and high-end envelopes that are typically used in direct mail. Motion Envelope has long been well regarded in the marketplace, so the acquisition aligned well with our overall strategy,” says Berkley.
Tension’s contributions to the envelope and direct mailing industry are so great that it is featured in The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum virtual exhibition, “America’s Mailing Industry.” Currently, Bert Berkley, chairman of the Board of Tension Corporation, former president and CEO and third-generation descendant of the founder, serves on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum Advisory Council.
“Tension has been a longstanding supporter of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and was honored to be part of the American Mailing Industry exhibition, especially because it will live in perpetuity in a digital format. We took great care to create a summary that was meaningful, relevant and honored the vision of William J Berkowitz,” comments Bert Berkley.
Tension is also no stranger to the FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards.
“Tension is honored to have been recognized within the industry for our quality and leadership, and the Excellence in Flexography awards speak to our commitment to delivering the highest quality products to our customers,” says Loggia. “Since our company’s inception, quality is built into everything we do. It is woven into our processes, our training and our associates—even our mission statement.”
Loggia explained that much of the training at Tension is centralized, allowing the company to teach and use repeatable best practices in manufacturing activities. “All of these are aspects that help contribute to delivering products of the highest quality.”
Tension has integrated Lean Sigma and Continuous Improvement principles throughout the company. Lean Sigma is a systematic approach to drive continuous improvement using methodologies that engage all associates of Tension. It is a bottom-up way of solving problems that empowers every associate to improve the business. Ultimately, as a Lean company, Tension can respond to market changes quickly and effectively, and provide greater value to customers, continues Loggia.
“Tension’s philosophy since the beginning of the company is to strive to deliver a quality product, and look for ways to add value to it to make it work even better for our customers.”
In addition to Bill and Bert Berkley being descendants of the founder, many employees have a parent, spouse, sibling, child or other family member who works at Tension or has worked at Tension.
“This sense of longevity and excellence instills responsibility and a pride of continuing to deliver on Tension’s mission to best meet the needs of our customers through creativity and teamwork with the highest quality products and services,” says Bill Berkley. “It impacts everything we do.”