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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

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War
i General Conditions
ii Some Early Innovative Approaches
iii Concrete Pipes
iv Cement-fibre Pipes
v Concrete Products
vi The Birth of the Iron and Steel Industry

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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Kiwi-Boot Polish

At the end of the nineteenth century, the cleaning of boots and shoes was a laborious business, especially as they would be subjected to much dirt, grime and wet. Most people were still using paper-wrapped sticks of blacking which were made from many different and often inappropriate ingredients including soaps, glue, oils, tallow, lamp black, bone black, molasses and sugar. An early method of keeping shoes in good condition in Britain was to clean well with dilute white-of-egg and rub beeswax in thoroughly.

A small factory producing cleaning products was opened by William Ramsay and Hamilton McKellan in Carlton, Victoria in 1901 and through careful experiments they produced an improved boot cream in 1904. At this time solvent type boot polishes were being developed abroad with beeswax and paraffin as the main solid components, dilution being made with turpentine.

Of all the products manufactured in these early days by McKellan and Ramsay -and these ranged from fire-kindlers to antiseptic sawdust -they concentrated on improving boot polish, which they could see would be used daily by the bulk of the population. In 1906 they perfected a new polish to which William Ramsay gave the name Kiwi, possibly recalling that he had married a New Zealand girl five years earlier. It is of interest that this new product was being launched into a market where there were already fourteen other brands established. None of these brands, however, nor the initial Kiwi, were able to restore the colour to tan or brown shoes that had been faded by weather and hard wearing, and footwear faded by the strong sunlight of shop windows was proving a loss for storekeepers.

In 1908 the famous Kiwi Dark Tan was produced and found to be a considerable advance on other brands, because it polished, preserved and restored the colour to dark tan shoes. It also contained ingredients which nourished the leather and kept it supple as well as water resistant. Other colours followed shortly afterwards, including a black polish. By 1910, Kiwi distribution had been extended to all States of the Commonwealth and to New Zealand; in 1911 sales rose to 2323 gross. Overseas sales in England and Europe followed a year later; by 1913 sales were 6000 gross overseas.

The McKellan and Ramsay partnership was dissolved about this time and Ramsay set up a new factory called Kiwi Boot Polish Company and some time after his death in 1914 an amalgamation of Australian and English interests became the Kiwi Polish Company.

A major increase in business occurred with the use of Kiwi by Australian soldiers and officers during the First World War particularly the men of the Australian Light Horse. New plant and production techniques were required to keep pace with the marching Army orders. Both British and American forces also ordered the product so that, only ten years after its first appearance in Melbourne, 30 million tins of Kiwi polish had been sold. Expansion of sales outlets continued and the Company again succeeded greatly during the Second World War. Following this and apart from continuing expansion, the policy of the Company strongly favoured diversification of product range both by expansion from within and by take-over and finally became part of the Nicholas group of companies.

Thomas Baker and the Kodak Connection

The origins of Kodak in Australia reach back to 1884, when a young chemist, Thomas Baker, was the first person in this country to successfully manufacture and market photographic dry plates. He set up a small cottage industry producing his Special Rapid plates at his home in Abbotsford, Victoria. Until about this time photography relied on the very cumbersome and inconvenient wet plate process, which required the plate to be exposed at once and developed while wet. In 1880 George Eastman in the USA had begun commercial production of dry plates. In 1887, Baker entered into partnership with John Rouse, a young accountant, who concentrated on setting up a network of outlets while Baker concentrated on process improvements and production in the laboratory, which operated as Thomas Baker and Company Laboratory to 1894, when the name changed to Baker and Rouse Australia Laboratory. The Austral Laboratory produced Austral dry plates which were an improvement on the original Special Rapid plates, as well as on Austral Pearl Bromide paper, which was a matte finish paper, and Austral Printing Cut paper. They were also importing Eastman products from London and in 1888 obtained a trade agency for the American Eastman product, American Aristo paper. Eastman in this period coined the name Kodak. In 1894 Baker announced a new Star paper, which was a glossy bromide paper of superior quality and two years later the Australian-made Simplex gaslight paper was introduced. Baker and Rouse continued to expand, mainly by taking over existing companies or trade outlets, and in 1905 they were granted the Australia-wide agency for Eastman Kodak products. Finally, a union of the two companies became sensible when import tariffs were greatly increased in 1907 and the new company Australia Kodak Limited was registered in 1908 with a further name change to Kodak (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. in 1920. By this time the company was producing and marketing a range of products including the new Kodak NC (non-curl) film, a product range that continued to grow through the thirties and beyond.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Austral Laboratory; Australia Kodak Ltd; Baker and Rouse Australia Laboratory; Kiwi Boot Polish Company; Kiwi Polish Company; Kodak; Thomas Baker and Company Laboratory

People in Bright Sparcs - Baker, Thomas; McKellan, Hamilton; Ramsay, William; Rouse, John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 862 - 863, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher