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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion
i General Conditions
ii Early Iron Production
iii The Effects of the Gold Rush - Ballarat in Particular
iv Gawler - A South Australian Industrial Town
v Railways - A Major Employer
vi Brewing and Soft Drinks
vii Drink Containers
viii Food Containers

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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Food Containers

The packaging of food into tinplate containers began overseas about 1800, when food was placed in square cans, and the final sealing of a small hole in the top was made with a soldered metal disc. In Australia, as early as 1846, tinned meat was being produced and the possibilities of canning and exporting meat were soon being carefully explored. By 1866, Henry Dangar in Newcastle was exporting boiled mutton to the Home Country and it is recorded that in 1874 Australia's balance of trade was being assisted by the sales of tinned corned beef. Marvellous progress was to be made, for by 1900 developments in the production of automatic machinery for the manufacture of cans in Australia made it possible for their production at the rate of 2500 cans per hour.

Though Dangar was shipping corned beef overseas by the mid 1800s, the goldrush period attracted the tinsmiths from the industry to such a degree that progress virtually ceased till the end of the century, when tinsmiths were busy again handmaking tin plate metal containers for a variety of products.

Jabez Gadsden arrived in Australia at the age of 20 in 1879. The company he founded made notable contributions not only to the can-making industry, but also to a large range of packaging materials. His career was to be marked by business acumen, technical ability and cautious optimism.

Although he was a bootmaker by trade, Gadsden built up a very significant business in the manufacture of calico and hessian bags which were used extensively in the transport of rice, flour, oatmeal etc. He solved the printing problem on his products by forming his own printing plant and in a marvellous innovation for the period, modified a conventional Wharfedale cylinder printing machine to increase its production from 250 units to 1000 units per hour. By virtue of their ability in printing, Gadsden became the first Australian operator to print tinplate, using a small litho press, in the period 1890/99. This was quite an achievement, as the same process was still very much experimental at that time in the United Kingdom. By 1904, with the purchase of tinplate fabrication machinery from America, Gadsden began to produce buckets, money boxes and drums and with this the Australian can industry had started.

In the mid 1920s, there were no automatic lines for the production of tin cans and consequently, personal skills were important on the part of the can makers. Just as the flair for improvisation had moved them into new processes for printing on materials other than paper, so also the company made great progress in improving the machinery of the day.

Tariff protection in 1929 saw the Government of the day give assistance to makers of four gallon cans and this staple manufacturing item helped the company survive the depression period.

Oddly enough, square cans dominated the market till the 1930s. With the advent of the cylindrical open topped can, which was supplied to the food processors, enormous demands soon built up. By the time of the Second World War, the company was able to make cylindrical open topped cans at 300 per minute on machines which had been modified by the staff from an initial production rate of 70 per minute.

Gadsden produced a parachute bomb during this period of novel design; for low level bombing the device was lethal and effective, as was a subsequent development -a low level smoke bomb.

People in Bright Sparcs - Dangar, Henry; Gadsden, Jabez

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 859 - 860, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher