Deposit N163 - Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd deposit

Identity area

Reference code

AU NBAC N163

Title

Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd deposit

Date(s)

  • 1873 - 2002 (Creation)

Level of description

Deposit

Extent and medium

8 m

Context area

Name of creator

(1956 - 1983)

Administrative history

On 2 September 1929, British-based Lever Brothers and the Dutch union of fats and oils businesses, Margarine Unie, signed an agreement to create Unilever. Unilever developed in Australia from an association, in 1924, between major soap making companies Lever Brothers Ltd of Sydney, J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd of Melbourne and WH Burford & Sons Ltd of Adelaide. Gradually these companies moved into the edible oils and fats market, then into the foods, ice cream and personal products sections of business as well as chemicals, printing and distribution. This Lever-Kitchen-Burford association continued as a relatively static enterprise for more than thirty years. Little attempt was made by Unilever to rationalise the separate marketing identities; internal competition persisted. Then, in 1956, all Unilever’s Australian businesses were merged under the one banner – Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd (UAPL). The UAPL Board’s responsibility included the general supervision of the operating companies – Lever & Kitchen, Rosella Foods, Edible Oil Industries, Streets Ice Cream, Rexona, Lintas, SPD Transport, Beacon Research, Unilever Australia Export and, briefly, Hillcastle (NZ), formerly Eugene NZ Ltd. Unilever House was opened, in 1958, at 1-33 Macquarie Street, Sydney, to accommodate a new centralised management structure. In 1961 Unilever’s Australian interests were grouped under a holding company, Unilever Australia (Holdings) Pty Ltd, which operated through its main subsidiary, Unilever Australia Ltd. From 1 January 1970 the UAPL Board was replaced by National Management comprising Unilever Australia (Holdings) Pty Ltd directors. By 1983 Unilever in Australia was represented by a group of companies producing and marketing a wide variety of consumer goods, industrial products and related services - John West Foods Pty Ltd, Unilever Australia Export Pty Ltd, Unifood Services Pty Ltd, Unichema Australia Pty Ltd, Streets Ice Cream Pty Ltd, Rosella Lipton Pty Ltd, Rexona Pty Ltd, Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd, Edible Oil Industries (EOI) Pty Ltd. Most of the operating companies had their own Boards of Directors, all reporting to the Chairman of Unilever Australia Ltd.

Name of creator

(1899 - 1962)

Administrative history

Lever Brothers, one of the first companies to manufacture soap from vegetable oils, was founded by William Hesketh Lever and his brother, James Darcy Lever in England, in 1885. Lever gave the soap the brand name of ‘Sunlight’ and sold it wrapped in distinctive packs. In 1889 Lever Brothers opened an office in Sydney and products manufactured in England were imported into Australia and sold, mainly through agents. In return, copra from the Pacific islands and Australian tallow, were shipped, as raw materials, to the company’s works at Port Sunlight. In 1897 an oil and copra plant was established at Balmain, Sydney, and, in 1900, the Balmain plant began to manufacture Sunlight soap and glycerine. Other products followed. Lever Brothers Ltd (Australia) had been incorporated in New South Wales as an Australian enterprise, 29 December 1899, and the soap works and copra mill at Balmain were owned by the new company. Lever’s Australian business developed into a stable soap, detergent and edible oil manufacturing enterprise, built up by mergers with dominant rivals. The first branch office of Lever Bothers Ltd (Australia) was opened in Melbourne in 1911 and by 1924 branch offices had replaced agents’ offices in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Lever Brothers (Australia) Ltd began an association with J Kitchen and Sons Pty Ltd of Melbourne and WH Burford and Sons Ltd of Adelaide, in 1914 and in 1924 all three merged to form Australian Producers Co-Partnership Ltd (renamed Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd in 1932 and Lever Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd in 1944). The business activities of each firm were coordinated by a General (Central) Management Board, comprising representatives of Lever Brothers in Balmain, the Kitchen interests and Levers Pacific Plantations. After the amalgamation of Lever Brothers and Unilever was complete, in 1937, Lever Bothers Ltd (Australia) became Lever Bothers Pty Ltd (Australia). In 1956 Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd (UAPL) took over Lever Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd as the holding company for all Unilever’s Australian interests, including Lever Bothers Pty Ltd. Then, in 1962, following a further period of rationalisation, diversification and integration, Unilever amalgamated its two major Australian soap marketing companies, J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd of Melbourne and Lever Brothers Pty Ltd of Sydney to form Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd.

Name of creator

(1856 - 1962)

Administrative history

In 1856 John Kitchen and his sons, John Ambrose, Phillip and Theophilus, began making tallow candles from butchers' scraps in the backyard of their home at Emerald Hill (South Melbourne). Ordered out as an offensive trade, the business removed to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) in 1858. Fire destroyed the company's premises in 1860, but they were quickly rebuilt and a Melbourne office was opened. In 1870 the Kitchens bought Gossage Brothers' soap and candle factory at Footscray to which they transferred their boiling-down operations. Manufacture of stearine candles commenced there in 1871. The driving force in the subsequent expansion of J Kitchen & Sons was John Ambrose, who established a factory in Wellington, New Zealand (1876), and bought out competitors at Sandhurst/Bendigo (1878), Echuca (1887) and Wangaratta (1887). Incorporated in 1883, J Kitchen & Sons, now employed some 300 workers at their factory in Melbourne. Apart from making candles and soap, and rendering tallow, they were also manufacturing glycerine, washing blue, soda crystals and baking powder. Following a merger with Apollo Company Limited in 1885 J Kitchen & Sons became the pre-eminent soap and candle manufacturer in the eastern mainland colonies, with a factory in Brisbane and a half-interest in the Sydney Soap & Candle Company Limited. A boiling-down factory was opened in Alexandria, a suburb of Sydney, in 1886 and, by 1895 J Kitchen & Sons had successfully introduced machine milling to Australia - instead of being mixed with the melted soap, perfumes were milled and pressed in by machine. J Kitchen & Sons moved into the southern and western parts of Australia by 1902 and, in 1907, began producing copra oil from a plantation at Milne Bay, Papua. Velvet soap was introduced as a brand name in 1906 and Solvol in 1915. In February 1915 the Company became a proprietary one and the name altered to J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd. By 1924 all Kitchen interests throughout Australia had been absorbed, by purchase, into J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd. The main premises, located at Port Melbourne, covered one hundred and seventeen acres and employed about 1,400 people. J Kitchen and Sons merged with WH Burford & Sons of Adelaide and Lever Brothers of Sydney in 1924 to form Australian Producers Co-Partnership Ltd (renamed Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd in 1932). The activities of the individual companies were coordinated by a General (Central) Management Board, comprising representatives of Lever Brothers in Balmain, the Kitchen interests and Levers Pacific Plantations. Unilever developed in Australia from this basis. In 1944 Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd was renamed Lever Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd (LAEP). The central executive of LAEP took over the duties of the Chairman and the directors of each of the subordinate companies, together with the technical direction that determined the character and composition of the products each company made. In 1945 Unilever began a period of rationalisation, diversification and integration in Australia. From 1948 production at the Kitchen factory in Brisbane was wound down and, in 1956 Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd (UAPL) became the holding company for all Unilever’s Australian interests. Further rationalisation was conceived and in 1962 Unilever’s two major Australian soap marketing companies, J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd of Melbourne and Lever Brothers Pty Ltd of Sydney amalgamated to form Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd.

Name of creator

(1878 - 1957)

Administrative history

William Burford founded his soap and candle-making business at Grenfell Street, Adelaide in 1840. He took his two sons, Benjamin and William, into partnership in 1878 and the firm became known as WH Burford & Sons. In 1885 the business transferred to Sturt Street, where, under the directorship of William Burford (jnr), it flourished. Apart from making candles and soap and rendering tallow, WH Burford & Sons began manufacturing other products such as glycerine, blacking, soda crystals, washing blue, lubricating oils, fire kindlers, egg preserver, starch, cornflour and dried gluten. In 1887 the firm purchased the Apollo Works at Hindmarsh and in 1888, Frearson Brothers’ printing business, also in Hindmarsh. Other branches were established at Broken Hill, Port Pirie, Kadina, Port Augusta, Mount Gambier, and at North Fremantle and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia so that, by the time of the first world war (1914-18), WH Burford & Sons dominated the soap and candle market in most of the southern and western part of Australia. A large portion of the Sturt Street factory was destroyed by fire in 1919 which prompted the construction of a more modern factory at Dry Creek. The Dry Creek factory opened in 1923 and became the centre for Burford’s operations in the Adelaide area. In 1924 J Kitchen and Sons in Melbourne and Lever Brothers in Sydney merged with WH Burford & Sons to form Australian Producers Co-Partnership Ltd (renamed Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd in 1932, Lever Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd in 1944). The activities of the individual companies were coordinated by a General (Central) Management Board, comprising representatives of Lever Brothers in Balmain, the Kitchen interests and Levers Pacific Plantations. Unilever developed in Australia from this basis. During the 1930s WH Burford & Sons and J Kitchen and Sons undertook a far-reaching rationalisation scheme. It originated in 1928 after a disastrous fire in the Kitchen factory in Fremantle. Burford’s, Kitchen’s main rivals, were turned to for assistance. Kitchen’s goods were made at the Burford factory, then packed and sold by the Kitchen organisation. The scheme worked well and, in 1932, the Directors of both J Kitchen & Sons and WH Burford & Sons formed a new company, Soap Distributors Ltd, to control the manufacture and distribution of both companies’ products in southern and western Australia. By 1937 all Burford-owned factories were being run by J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd. In 1945 Unilever began a period of rationalisation, diversification and integration in Australia. From 1948 production at the Burford factory in Adelaide was wound down and in 1956 Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd (UAPL) took over Lever Associated Enterprises Pty Ltd as the holding company for all Unilever’s Australian interests. Factories owned by the operating companies, including Burford’s, came under its control. Unilever (Australia) bought out WH Burford & Sons completely in 1957.

Name of creator

Administrative history

In 1962 Unilever amalgamated its two major soap marketing companies, J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd of Melbourne and Lever Brothers Pty Ltd of Sydney, to form Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd. Lever & Kitchen became Unilever Australia’s major marketing company for branded soaps, synthetic detergents and allied products. Prior to 1962 Unilever’s production of detergents in Australia had taken place at Balmain (Lever Brothers) and Port Melbourne (J Kitchen & Sons). After 1965 Balmain became the sole manufacturing centre for all detergents, toilet preparations, edible oils and cooking fats - each having its own separate factory. Consumer demand for Lever & Kitchen’s products increased steadily and, as there was no space for further expansion at the Balmain site, a decision was made to buy land at Minto and to erect a new factory there. Initially this was for the manufacture and packaging of washing powders and, in 1979, Lever & Kitchen began production of its powder products, including Omo, Omomatic, Surf, Drive, Softly and Rinso from the new factory at Minto. As new or additional plant was needed for other products in the company’s range, in 1987, another factory was opened at Minto to manufacture liquid detergents (washing up liquids such as Sunlight Liquid, Lux Liquid and Kit), fabric softener (Comfort), floor cleaner (Handy Andy) and scourers (Jif and Vim). Also manufactured at Minto were toilet soaps (Lux Toilet Soap, Sunlight Toilet Soap), laundry soap (Sunlight) and flakes (Lux Flakes). The Balmain site was sold in 1988 and many of the production lines were transferred directly to Port Melbourne. By 1989, after renovations at the old John Kitchen detergent building at Port Melbourne, the factory was responsible for the production of all Lever & Kitchen soaps.In 1989 the home and personal care business of Lever and Kitchen Pty Ltd merged with Rexona Pty Ltd to form L&K:Rexona with its Head Office located at North Rocks, Sydney.The company changed name in 1993 to Lever Rexona and, in 2000, merged with Unilever Foods to form what was to become known as Unilever Australasia.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Records of Unilever (Australia) Pty Ltd, Lever Brothers Pty Ltd, Burford & Sons Ltd, J Kitchen & Sons Ltd and Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd and some of their associated/ subsidiary companies - Commonwealth Copra Company, Eugene (Australia), Eugene (New Zealand), Hillcastle (New Zealand), J & E Atkinson, Lever Associated Enterprises, Neptune Oil Company, Rexona Pty Ltd, Soap Distributors Ltd and Sydney Soap and Candle Company. Includes various minute books, correspondence files, company journals, reports, formulae books, photographs and factory plans. The History of J Kitchen & Sons Pty Ltd, a manuscript compiled by Arnold Riches, The Story of Rexona Pty Ltd by Ken Washington and Rosella: celebrating 100 years of care, a Rosella Public Relations/Promotional Program publication, are useful sources of historical information that complement the business records of these companies. Photographs in the collection depict the many facets of Lever Brothers Pty Ltd/Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd operations at Balmain - the factory buildings, machinery, manufacturing processes, products, staff and employees as well as J Kitchen & Sons Ltd factories at Port Melbourne and Alexandria, Rexona Pty Ltd product launches and promotions, and ‘Good Rexona Town’ signs that appeared throughout NSW and Victoria in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Archives staff will need to request permission from the owner of the records before access can be given.

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A small amount of material relating to Unilever in Australia (mainly Joseph Meek and plantations) was transferred to England at the time this collection was deposited at the Noel Butlin Archives Centre. Contact: Unilever Archives, PO Box 69, Port Sunlight, Wirral CH62 4ZD, United Kingdom.

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Dates of creation revision deletion

Entered from deposit description, Aug 2012

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